U.S. Soldier Charged With Murder Of 17 Afghans

The U.S. Army filed charges today against Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, the soldier accused of the shooting rampage in Afghanistan. He was charged with 17 counts of murder, six counts of attempted murder, and six counts of assault.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

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And I'm Robert Siegel. Seventeen counts of premeditated murder, plus more for attempted murder and assault. Those are the charges filed today against Staff Sergeant Robert Bales. He's the soldier accused of massacring Afghan civilians nearly two weeks ago. The Army has the option of seeking the death penalty. But there is a long legal process ahead. And as NPR's Martin Kaste reports, the details of that process are still being worked out.

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: Bales is charged with shooting and killing six males and eleven females - the charge sheet doesn't break out which victims were children, though we know from other sources that nine were. Bales is also charged with six counts of attempted murder and six counts of assault. Four victims were wounded by gunfire, and two were shot at. The charge sheet makes no mention of the use of a knife or whether Bales burned some of the bodies - details which have been reported elsewhere.

In fact, the charge sheet doesn't give any kind of a narrative; no details about how Bales allegedly went about the crime or why. Retired Marine Corps Judge Advocate Gary Solis says it's quite typical for the charge sheet to be bare bones like this.

GARY SOLIS: The government is not at this point going to say to the government here - to the defense here's everything we've got because the government's case is still evolving. And they don't want to hand it over on a daily basis, you know? They're going to wait until their case is ready to go to the 32.

KASTE: Solis is referring to the Article 32 hearing. That's the Army's version of a grand jury. That hearing could still be months away. We do know, now, that the convening authority - that is, the officer in charge of these proceedings - is stationed at Sergeant Bales' home base, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, here in Washington state. And that creates the likelihood that the Article 32 and the eventual court martial will be held here, though Major Chris Ophardt, the spokesman for the base, says that's not necessarily how things will play out.

MAJOR CHRIS OPHARDT: The convening authority is located here. A determination will be made where the best place is to hold the Article 32, which is the next step. It could be Leavenworth, it could be here, or it could be another place in the Army.

KASTE: One important detail in the charging documents was left conspicuously blank, the section that indicates whether the prosecutors consider this a capital crime, one which could lead to the death penalty. Given the charges of premeditated murder, the Army has the option of pursuing the death penalty, but as of yet, it's not ready to say if it will. Yesterday, Bales' civilian lawyer, John Henry Browne, indicated he expected it would be a capital case.

JOHN HENRY BROWNE: I would guess that that's on the table, you know? And I would understand that for certain. You know, that's something that we can negotiate on hopefully down the road, but, you know, we're fully expecting that it will be a capital charge.

KASTE: Browne has said that his client has incomplete memories of the night of the massacre, and he's made reference to the possibility of arguing that his client suffered from diminished mental capacity, though he adds that that's not necessarily his plan, just a hypothetical. Martin Kaste, NPR News, Seattle.

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