SEATTLE A U.S. soldier charged with killing 16 Afghan civilians is expected to undergo a court-ordered review of his sanity beginning this weekend, after the military judge overseeing the case agreed that the results would not automatically be shared with prosecutors, his lawyers said Wednesday.
The review of Staff Sgt. Robert Bales by Army doctors will start Sunday and could last three to seven days, said attorney John Henry Browne. Such reviews are aimed at discerning a defendant's mental state at the time of the crime and competency to stand trial.
The Ohio native and father of two from Lake Tapps, Wash., is accused of murdering Afghan villagers, mostly women and children, during pre-dawn raids on March 11, 2011. Bales, who was on his fourth combat deployment, slipped away from his base in southern Afghanistan to attack two nearby villages and returned soaked in blood, prosecutors say.
He has not entered a plea. The Army is seeking the death penalty.
Bales' lawyers previously objected to the sanity review because the Army would not allow the proceedings to be recorded, would not let Bales have a lawyer present, and would not agree to appoint a neuropsychologist expert in traumatic brain injuries to be involved.
They also objected because the "short-form" results of such exams, with answers about his mental health diagnosis and mental state at the time of the attack, often are provided automatically to military prosecutors, with the rest of the results being turned over only if the accused raises mental health as a defense to the charges.
However, Bales' attorneys argued that even letting prosecutors have the short form would give them information based on compelled statements from the defendant, in possible violation of his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
At a hearing in January, the judge ordered the sanity review to go forward. His written order later made clear that the prosecutors would not receive the short-form results, said Emma Scanlan, another lawyer for Bales.
"They're not going to get that information, which is why our client is agreeing to participate," Scanlan said.
Browne has previously said the defense team has obtained medical records from Madigan Army Medical Center in Washington state indicating Bales had suffered from a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder, but he described those records as incomplete.
Bales' mental health has been expected to be a key part of his defense.
Lt. Col. Gary Dangerfield, an Army spokesman at the base, confirmed that the sanity review will begin Sunday.
Last week, six Afghan civilians who are expected to testify at Bales' trial traveled to Lewis-McChord. The purpose of the trip was to familiarize them with the process and logistics for the court martial, Dangerfield said.
Among the visitors was Haji Mohammad Naim, who was shot and wounded during the massacre, said Lela Ahmadzai, an Afghan filmmaker who said she spoke with relatives of the victims recently.
Ahmadzai, who lives in Germany, marked this week's anniversary of the killings by releasing a web documentary about the attack, "Silent Night: The Kandahar Massacre," including dramatic interviews with some of the victims recorded in October.
"It's really hard to hear about it from the kids' perspective," she said. "I wanted to show them, to give them a space to talk. They don't usually get that."