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Charges expected this week in Afghan killings

Last Updated 1:31 p.m. ET

(CBS/AP) Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians in a shooting rampage that has frayed ties between the U.S. and Afghanistan, is meeting for the first time with his attorney Monday at the Fort Leavenworth, Kan., military prison where he is being held in solitary confinement.

CBS News has learned that Sgt. Bales is to be charged in those killings this week.

Observers expect a long legal process and a court-martial is likely, reports CBS News correspondent Bill Whitaker.

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Bales' defense attorney, John Henry Browne, is scheduled to meet with Bales at Fort Leavenworth for eight hours Monday, and another eight hours on Tuesday.

CBS News correspondent Peter Van Sant reports Browne has previously had two telephone conversations with Bales, and he described the Sergeant as "low-key, intelligent and articulate." Browne said their earlier conversations did not go into specifics of the case because they were concerned their phone calls might be monitored.

Van Sant met last night with Browne, and his colleague Emma Scanlan. They had just received their first military document - a 10-15 page initial finding of fact - which had been given to them during a meeting Monday night with the military JAG attorney who is also serving on the defense team.

Browne told Van Sant they had not yet read the document but they believe it has some eyewitness accounts and also some military conclusions about what happened on that night of March 11. He said he doesn't know what to expect at this meeting with Bales, because he's dealt with clients in the past who have had traumatic brain injuries and they've sometimes looked at him and said, "I don't remember."

Browne is the lead defense attorney on this case, not the JAG attorney. He was brought in to the case by Bales' wife who had had seen him on television in Washington state, having represented the "Barefoot Bandit," Colton Harris-Moore. Browne got a successful settlement in that case, which is his specialty: negotiated settlements.

Van Sant reports that Browne's goal is to make sure that Robert Bales does not get the death penalty. (Under the military system, conviction on these charges would being the death penalty, and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said it is definitely on the table in this prosecution.)

Browne also said that he intends to put the government on trial in this case.

If the case goes to court, the trial will be held in the United States, said a legal expert with the U.S. military familiar with the investigation who spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

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 United States to participate, he said.

Military lawyers say once attorneys involved in the initial investigation of an alleged crime involving a service member have what they believe to be a solid understanding of what happened and are satisfied with the evidence collected, they draft charges and present them to a commander. That person 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 "prefers" 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.

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When asked if Bales had undergone psychiatric evaluations in the past, Van Sant said the Army typically does an evaluation after a soldier suffers a concussive brain injury, "but it's been described to me, not by the defense team but by others, as a bit of a cursory medical examination. The idea is to try to get these people back out into the field as quickly as possible.

"Remember, there's a number of these IED concussive effects [which affect] hundreds and hundreds of our soldiers over there," Van Sant said. "In fact, the morning of this massacre, Robert Bales had witnessed a colleague's leg blown off by an IED and had experienced some of that concussive effect.

"What they're finding in research - this is not spin from a defense team, the true research - that one of the results of this kind of injury can be a loss of impulse control. And if you combine that with post-traumatic stress disorder, it's a deadly cocktail."

To watch Peter Van Sant's complete report click on the video player above.

Meanwhile, more details emerged about the suspect, and friends and neighbors spoke about the man accused of atrocities. They remember Bales as a man of honor.

"Bales is an extremely professional NCO," Capt. Chris Alexander, who served with Bales and has known him for years, told CBS News. "No job too menial or too dangerous, and he would always get it done, and get it done very well."

Bales joined the Army shortly after September 11, 2001. He was already 27 years old at the time.

Family friend Steve Berling says Bales "felt that he needed something bigger in his heart and his mind and in his soul, (and) that's why he went in the military."

"Something terribly terrible has happened to him," neighbor Stuart Ness said. "And I think anybody in the military who's been in combat certainly understands the kind of stress these guys have been going through."

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