Afghan shooter 'remembers little'

2012-03-20 07:30
Kansas - The Army staff sergeant accused of slaughtering 16 Afghan civilians in a night-time shooting rampage has a sketchy memory of the night of the massacre, his lawyer said on Monday after meeting his client for the first time.

Lawyer John Henry Browne said Robert Bales remembers some details from before and after the killings, but very little or nothing of the time the military believes he went on a shooting spree through two Afghan villages.

"He has some memory of some things that happened that night. He has some memories of before the incident and he has some memories of after the incident. In between, very little," Browne told The Associated Press by telephone from the maximum security military prison at Fort Leavenworth, where Bales is being held.

Pressed on whether Bales can remember anything about the shooting, Browne said, "No," but added: "I haven't gotten that far with him yet."

In an earlier interview with CBS television, Browne said unequivocally that Bales can't remember the shootings.

No charges yet

Meanwhile, records show Bales owes $1.5m from an arbitration ruling nearly a decade ago that found him guilty of securities fraud.

Bales, 38, has not been charged yet in the March 11 shootings, though charges could come this week. The killings sparked protests in Afghanistan, endangered US-Afghan relations and threatened to upend American policy over the decade-old war.

Earlier on Monday, Browne met with his client behind bars for the first time to begin building a defence and said the soldier gave a powerfully moving account of what it is like to be on the ground in Afghanistan.

Browne said he and Bales, who is being held in an isolated cell at the military prison, met for more than three hours at Fort Leavenworth.

"What's going on on the ground in Afghanistan, you read about it. I read about it. But it's totally different when you hear about it from somebody who's been there," Browne told the AP. "It's just really emotional."

Browne, a Seattle attorney who defended serial killer Ted Bundy and a thief known as the "Barefoot Bandit", has said he has handled three or four military cases. The defence team includes a military defence lawyer, Major Thomas Hurley. The lawyers have said they plan to meet with Bales this week.

Setting victims on fire

At their meeting, Browne said Bales clarified a story, provided initially by the soldier's family, about the timing of a roadside bomb that blew off the leg of one of Bales' friends. It was two days before the shooting, not one, and Bales didn't see the explosion, just the aftermath, Browne said.

The details of the blast could not be immediately confirmed.

Military officials have said that Bales, after drinking on a southern Afghanistan base, crept away to two villages overnight, shooting his victims and setting many of them on fire. Nine of the dead were children and 11 belonged to one family.

Bales arrived at Fort Leavenworth last Friday and was being held in the same prison as other prominent defendants. Pfc Bradley Manning, who is charged with leaking classified documents to the WikiLeaks website, has been held there on occasion as he awaits trial.

Bales is "already being integrated into the normal pre-trial confinement routine", prison spokesperson Rebecca Steed said.

The routine includes recreation, meals and cleaning the area where he is living. Steed said once his meetings with his attorneys are complete later in the week, Bales will resume the normal integration process.

Wife 'profoundly sad'

Bales' wife, Karilyn, offered her condolences to the victims' families and said on Monday she wants to know what happened. She said her family and her in-laws are profoundly sad, and that what they've read and seen in news reports is "completely out of character of the man I know and admire".

"My family including my and Bob's extended families are all profoundly sad. We extend our condolences to all the people of the Panjawai District, our hearts go out to all of them, especially to the parents, brothers, sisters and grandparents of the children who perished," Karilyn Bales said in a statement.

Court records and interviews show Bales had commendations for good conduct after four tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He enlisted in the military after the September 11 2001 terrorist attacks.

He also faced a number of problems in recent years: a Florida investment job went sour, his Seattle-area home was condemned as he struggled to make payments on another, and he failed to get a recent promotion. He also still faces a $1.5m securities fraud judgment from 2003.

The National Association of Securities Dealers found that Bales, another man and his company "engaged in fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, churning, unauthorised trading and unsuitable investments".

Records show Gary Liebschner of Columbus, Ohio, filed the complaint in 2000, when Bales was a stockbroker.

WCPO-TV in Ohio quoted Liebschner's wife as saying her husband became ill so they asked Bales to sell stock to pay medical bills, but never received the proceeds.

Legal troubles

An arbitration panel found Bales, Michael Patterson and Michael Patterson Inc individually and jointly liable for $637 000 in compensatory damages, $637 000 in punitive damages, $216 500 in attorneys' fees and several thousand dollars in other fees.

Punitive damages were allowed because the panel found Bales' conduct "fraudulent and malicious".

Bales did not file a "statement of answer", get an attorney or appear at an Ohio hearing, records show.

About a year and a half after the complaint was filed, Bales enlisted - just two months after September 11.

His legal troubles included charges that he assaulted a girlfriend and, in a hit-and-run accident, ran bleeding in military clothes into the woods, according to court records. He told police he fell asleep at the wheel and paid a fine to get the charges dismissed.

In March 1998, Bales was given a $65 citation for possessing alcohol at Daytona Beach, Florida. He did not pay the fine nor did he defend himself in court. A warrant was issued for his arrest, but it later expired.

Trial

If the case goes to court, the trial will be held in the US, said a legal expert with the US military familiar with the investigation who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the case.

That expert said charges were still being decided and that the location for any trial had not yet been determined. If the suspect is brought to trial, it is possible that Afghan witnesses and victims would be flown to the US to participate, he said.

After their investigation, military attorneys could draft charges and present them to a commander, who then makes a judgment on whether there is probable cause to believe that an offense was committed and that the accused committed it.

That commander then submits the charges to a convening authority, who typically is the commander of the brigade to which the accused is assigned but could be of higher rank.

Read more on:    robert bales  |  us  |  afghanistan  |  afghanistan shooting

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