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Sgt. Robert Bales, who murdered 16 Afghans, faces sentencing phase

Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, who has admitted to the murder of 16 civilians during a pair of solo nighttime raids in Afghanistan, faces the start of his sentencing hearing at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state Monday afternoon.

Bales pleaded guilty in June to avoid the death penalty. A military jury could give him either life in prison without parole, or a sentence that would allow him to be paroled after serving a portion of his sentence. 

Bales went on a murderous rampage through two poor villages in Kandahar province last March. After the first attack, in a village called Alkozai, he returned to base and woke up another soldier, who he told about the attack. The soldier did not believe him and went back to sleep. He then left the base and attacked the second village.

Bales, who was armed with a pistol and an M-4 rifle, shot his victims, many of them women and children, often in front of family members or in their beds. Some of the corpses were set on fire.

Asked by a judge after his guilty plea why he killed the villagers, Bales responded: "I've asked that question a million times since then. There's not a good reason in this world for why I did the horrible things I did." He said he did not remember setting bodies on fire but that based on the evidence "[i]t's the only thing that makes sense."

Bales' lawyers said the 40-year-old Ohio native had been drinking and snorting Valium on the night of the attacks, in violation of military rules. He was on his fourth overseas deployment, having previously served three tours in Iraq. "He is broken, he was broken -- and we broke him," Bales attorney John Henry Brown told CBS News. Bales, who joined the Army in 2001, is married with two young children.

Bales' lawyers have said the soldier was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and a traumatic brain injury. Bales said during his trial that he had been taking steroids in an effort to get "huge and jacked" that "definitely increased my irritability and anger." He has also said he took an anti-malarial drug that the Food and Drug Administration has said can cause neurological damage and significant psychiatric side effects. 

Afghans have expressed anger that Bales is not being put to death, and some have called for him to be tried in Afghanistan. The brother of Mohammad Daud, who was slain in the massacre, told CBS News that not putting Bales to death shows that "America is encouraging its soldiers to kill Afghan people, destroy and torch their houses, then come to America (and receive) a Medal of Honor." 

The massacre prompted angry protests in Afghanistan and the temporary suspension of U.S. combat operations. Villagers told CBS News that families of the victims were paid a total of about $700,000. 

Bales' lawyers last week unsuccessfully appealed to a judge for the ouster of prosecution lawyers who they claimed have mishandled evidence by reading statements Bales made during a psychological evaluation. They suggested the prosecution's viewing of the statements will be the basis for a potential appeal. 

Bales will have the opportunity to testify at his sentencing hearing, and witnesses are expected to appear for both the prosecution and defense. A spokesman for Joint Base Lewis-McChord told that nine witnesses are being flown in from Afghanistan. 

Bales' lawyers are expected to bring up his traumatic experiences in war zones and other issues in hopes that they will prompt parole consideration from the jury. 

There is no set timeframe for the hearing, though it is likely to be concluded by Sunday.


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