JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. -- A U.S. Army sergeant accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians in a middle-of-the-night rampage returned halfway through the killing spree and told a friend: "Hey, Mac, I just shot some people in Alkozai," an Army prosecutor said Monday at the opening of Staff Sgt. Robert Bales' preliminary hearing on murder charges.
When that fellow sergeant appeared not to believe him, telling him to "quit messing around" because he needed to go back to sleep, Sgt. Bales said: "Cool, I'm going to Najiban, I'll be back at 5." At that point, the 39-year-old sergeant left the base again and allegedly shot 11 people in that second village, south of the Army outpost near Kandahar.
A general alarm was raised after an Afghan guard spotted Sgt. Bales leaving the base the second time. By the time Sgt. Bales returned -- covered in blood and wearing an Afghan shawl around his shoulders -- he seemed surprised to be greeted with leveled guns and demands that he drop his own weapon, prosecutor Lt. Col. Joseph Morse told a hearing officer at the Article 32 proceeding.
"Are you [expletive] kidding me? ... Mac, did you rat me out?" Sgt. Bales allegedly said as he was ordered to drop his weapons, which included an M-4 rifle, a pistol and a grenade launcher.
"He makes multiple admissions that not only did he commit these crimes ... [but] he was lucid, he was coherent, he was responsive," Col. Morse said.
"You will hear him apologize multiple times, not for doing the killings, but for letting the team down," the prosecutor said. "You're going to hear Staff Sgt. Bales say, 'It's bad, it's really bad.' ... You'll hear Sgt. Bales tell [a colleague], 'Some sick [expletive] is going to come out of this.' "
The prosecutor's statement provides the first detailed account of the early morning of March 11, when Sgt. Bales is accused of engaging in a five-hour attack in both Alkozai, just north of the special forces base at Camp Belambay, and in Najiban, to the south. The hearing is expected to last as long as two weeks.
Just before he left the base at midnight, Sgt. Bales appeared at the room of one of the special forces team members deployed at the camp and had a "hugely important" conversation, Col. Morse said, that prosecutors believe helped explain Sgt. Bales' motivation for the killings.
Sgt. Bales told the team member that he "admires" the special forces "team guys" deployed at Camp Belambay and wished that he could have such a job.
Prosecutors concede that their forensic evidence is limited; they weren't able to visit the shooting scenes until a month later. But early DNA evidence has matched a woman's DNA found on the walls and floor of Najiban resident Mohammed Wazir's house with DNA found on Sgt. Bales' boots, shirt, pants, underwear and weapons, Col. Morse said.