Brother testifies for defense in Afghan massacre

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JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- A brother of the U.S. soldier who slaughtered 16 Afghan civilians last year began making the case Wednesday for why he should one day be eligible for parole, portraying him as a patriotic American and indulgent father who let his son put ranch dressing on chocolate chip pancakes.

"There's no better father that I've seen," William Bales said of his younger brother, Staff Sgt. Robert Bales. "If you brought the kids in here today, they'd run right to him."

Sgt. Bales, 39, pleaded guilty in June in a deal to avoid the death penalty, acknowledging that he killed 16 people, mostly women and children, during unsanctioned, solo, pre-dawn raids on two villages March 11, 2012. A jury is deciding whether he should be sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole, or without it.

The picture painted by the first defense witness, William Bales, 55, severely contradicted that portrayed by the soldier's admissions as well as by testimony from nine Afghan villagers, including victims and their relatives, about the horror Sgt. Bales wrought. Defense attorneys hoped that the contrast would convince jurors that Sgt. Bales simply snapped after four combat deployments and deserves leniency.

William Bales repeatedly referred to his sibling -- once captain of his high school football team and class president in Norwood, Ohio, where they grew up -- as "my baby brother" and "Bobby." He described how, as a teenager, his brother cared for a developmentally disabled neighborhood boy, assisting him with basic life functions. The boy's father also testified how helpful Sgt. Bales was.

William Bales also described how the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, changed "good-time Bobby," and how he soon enlisted in the Army. But prosecutors noted that Sgt. Bales was also facing a fraud lawsuit when he enlisted. An arbitrator eventually imposed a $1.5 million judgment against Sgt. Bales and his former stockbrokerage.

One of Sgt. Bale's lawyers, John Henry Browne, said after court Wednesday that his client will speak to the jury at the case's end and offer an apology for his crimes.

On Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning, nine Afghan villagers who had traveled about 7,000 miles to testify at the hearing in traditional garb spoke of their lives since the attacks.

Haji Mohammad Wazir lost 11 family members, including his mother, wife and six of his seven children. He told the six-member jury that the attacks destroyed what had been a happy life. He was in another village with his youngest son, now 5-year-old Habib Shah, during the attack.

"If someone loses one child, you can imagine how devastated their life would be," said Mr. Wazir, who received $550,000 in condolence payments from the U.S. government, out of $980,000 paid in all. His son, now 5, "misses everyone. He hasn't forgotten any of them."

Mr. Wazir and a cousin, Khamal Adin, didn't get to say all they wanted to in court. Each requested permission to speak after prosecutors' questioning, but the judge said it wasn't allowed.

On Tuesday, a farmer who was shot in the neck cursed Sgt. Bales before pleading with prosecutor to ask him no more questions. "This bastard stood right in front of me!" farmer Haji Mohammad Naim testified, through an interpreter. "I wanted to ask him, 'What did I do? What have I done to you?' ...and he shot me!"

Today's testimony is expected to focus on Sgt. Bales' mental health.


First Published August 22, 2013 4:00 AM


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