JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. -- The medic saw Staff Sgt. Robert Bales covered in blood and knew from the pattern of the staining that it wasn't his own. He asked where it came from, and where he'd been.
Sgt. Bales shrugged, the medic, Sgt. 1st Class James Stillwell, testified Tuesday. "If I tell you, you guys will have to testify against me," Sgt. Stillwell quoted him as saying.
The statement was one of many attributed to Sgt. Bales that suggest he knew what he was doing the night he surrendered after a two-village killing rampage in southern Afghanistan, prosecutors say.
The remarks, offered by fellow soldiers testifying for the government Monday and Tuesday, could pose a high hurdle for defense lawyers who have indicated that Sgt. Bales' mental health will be a big part of their case. The testimony is part of a preliminary hearing to determine whether the case goes to a court martial.
Defense lawyers have noted that Sgt. Bales was serving his fourth deployment, and had suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder as well as a concussive head injury in Iraq. One witness testified Tuesday that he was quick to anger.
The 39-year-old father of two from Lake Tapps, Wash., faces 16 counts of premeditated murder and six counts of attempted murder in the March 11 attack on the villages of Balandi and Alkozai, where nine children were among the victims. The attack prompted the U. S. to halt combat operations for days in the face of protests, and military investigators couldn't reach the crime scenes for a month.
A prosecutor's opening statement and witness testimony Monday suggested that Sgt. Bales spent the evening before the massacre at his remote outpost of Camp Belambay with two other soldiers, watching a movie about revenge killings, sharing contraband whiskey from a plastic bottle and discussing an attack that cost a comrade his leg.
Within hours, a cape-wearing Sgt. Bales slipped away from the post and embarked on a killing spree of his own, said the prosecutor, Lt. Col. Jay Morse. He attacked one village then returned to Belambay, where he woke up a colleague and reported what he'd done, Col. Morse said. The colleague testified he didn't believe Sgt. Bales and went back to sleep.
Sgt. Bales headed out again, Col. Morse said, and attacked the second village, bringing his death toll to 16 before returning once again in the predawn darkness.
His return to the base was caught on surveillance video, Col. Morse said.
Soldiers testified that Sgt. Bales, after being taken into custody, said, "I thought I was doing the right thing." He reportedly added: "It's bad, it's really bad."