Defense Team for Accused Soldier Releases Statement

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Staff Sargeant Robert Bales has been identified as the soldier accused of killing 16 civilians in Afghanistan, including 9 children, 3 women and 4 men. Photo credit: Department of Defense

SEATTLE, Washington — The law office of John Henry Browne, the attorney representing Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, who is accused of killing 16 civilians in Afghanistan, has released the following statement to Fox 8 News:

“The defense team, which includes civilian attorneys John Henry Browne and Emma Scanlan and detailed military defense counsel Major Thomas Hurley, plan to spend several days meeting with Staff Sergeant Robert Bales this upcoming week. Public reports that Sergeant Bales’ supervisors, family and friends describe him as a level-headed, experienced soldier are consistent with information gathered by the defense team.  It is too early to determine what factors may have played into this incident and the defense team looks forward to reviewing the evidence, examining all of Sergeant Bale’s medical and personnel records, and interviewing witnesses.  Sergeant Bales’ family is stunned in the face of this tragedy, but they stand behind the man they know as a devoted husband, father and dedicated member of the armed services.”

*Read earlier story from CNN below:

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By the CNN Wire Staff

CNN) — Afghans continued to grieve, and continued to fume, as a new day dawned on Sunday, exactly one week after a U.S. soldier allegedly went house to house shooting dead 16 villagers.

Much to the villagers’ disgust, the man suspected of single-handedly carrying out the attack — Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, a decorated combat veteran who once took pride in saving civilians in Iraq — is more than 7,000 miles away.

He arrived late Friday at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he is being held in solitary pre-trial confinement at the Midwest Joint Regional Correctional Facility, the Army said Saturday in a statement.

Bales is accused of leaving a remote U.S. combat outpost on foot before dawn on March 10 and killing people in their homes in villages in the Panjwai district of Afghanistan’s southern Kandahar province.

The chilling images of bloodied, limp bodies — among the dead, nine children — from that grisly attack are hard to reconcile with positive recollections of some who know him growing up and as a loving husband and father of two young children, as well as an official military account documenting his humanitarian battlefield exploits.

Bales attended elementary, middle and high school in Norwood, Ohio, a suburb of just over 19,000 people, located 5 miles northeast of Cincinnati, according to people who knew him.

Family friends who knew him growing up spoke highly of Bales. He played football and graduated in 1991 from Norwood High School, signing his name alongside other football players on a high school yearbook page as “Bob DOOM Bales.”

He then attended and played football at the College of Mount St. Joseph in Cincinnati, two family friends said Saturday. Records indicate Bales later lived at multiple addresses in the Columbus area, not far from Ohio State University.

He joined the Army two months after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and was assigned in September 2002 to Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, Washington, according to a brief summary released Saturday by the Army. It listed multiple decorations for Bales, including three Army “good conduct” medals.

He deployed to Iraq right after the 2003 invasion and then again in 2006, when he served 15 straight months as part of then-President Bush’s so-called surge of 20,000 additional troops.

According to Bales’ attorney John Henry Browne, the soldier was wounded during that tour and had to have part of his foot amputated.

An Army account recalled a 2007 incident that Bales was part of — what’s known either as the Battle of Zarqa or the Battle of Najaf that left 250 Iraqis dead and 81 wounded.

The mission going in was to recover a helicopter that had been shot down, killing both pilots. But the clearing operation turned into more of a humanitarian one to help many wounded civilians, according to the Army account posted online in February 2009.

Bales, who was serving then as a team leader, is quoted as saying that U.S. troops went to find people “we could help” and brought them out for treatment.

“I’ve never been more proud to be a part of this unit than that day, for the simple fact that we discriminated between the bad guys and the noncombatants and then afterward we ended up helping the people that three or four hours before were trying to kill us,” Bales said.

“I think that’s the real difference between being an American as opposed to being a bad guy, someone who puts his family in harm’s way like that.”

The soldier went to Iraq a final time between 2009 and 2010, according to the military. This time, he suffered a traumatic brain injury after his vehicle flipped after striking a roadside bomb, his attorney said.

Prior to his latest deployment — in January with the 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division — to Afghanistan, Bales was living near Lewis-McChord with his family in Lake Tapps, in a house that he and his wife purchased for $280,000 in 2006, according to records.

That two-story house was put on the market this week with a $229,000 asking price, according to realty records. It was vacant Friday afternoon, its front porch littered with boxes and children’s toys.

Neighbor Cassie Holland described the Bales family as “happy” and “normal.”

“I mean, we would go over there for birthday parties and they would come to my kids’ birthday parties,” she said. “I would describe (Bales) as super fun to hang around with, kind of the life of the party kinda guy. Super loving, great with his kids. I don’t see how this has happened.”

Bales and his family “were not happy” that he’d been deployed to Afghanistan on what ultimately became his fourth combat tour, his lawyer said, citing conversations with the soldier’s family.

“He was told that he was not going to be redeployed,” Browne said. “The family was counting on him not being redeployed.”

According to excerpts of blog posts written by Bales’ wife and published Friday by The Tacoma News-Tribune, the family was disappointed that Bales had not been promoted to sergeant first class.

“It is very disappointing after all of the work Bob has done and all the sacrifices he has made for his love of his country, family and friends,” Karilyn Bales wrote. “I am sad and disappointed too, but I am also relieved, we can finally move on to the next phase of our lives.”

The family was preparing to move last year and hoped to be stationed in either Germany, Italy, Hawaii, Kentucky to “be near Bob’s family,” or Georgia “to be a sniper teacher,” she said, according to the News-Tribune.

On the homefront, public records show that Bales had a brush with the law in 2002, when he faced a criminal assault charge in a Tacoma court. He pleaded not guilty.

A judge ordered anger-management counseling for Bales, the Wall Street Journal reported. The case was dismissed, records show.

He has not yet been formally charged in relation to the Afghanistan killings, though the military has made a determination of probable cause that allows him to be detained.

The military has seven days to bring Bales in front of a magistrate and 120 days to take him to trial, said Greg Rinckey, a former judge advocate.

Neighbors and relatives of those killed, meanwhile, are demanding Bales return to Afghanistan to face justice.

“Punish him in Afghanistan. Put him on trial here and heal our broken hearts,” one villager told Afghan President Hamid Karzai during a meeting with the victims’ families on Friday.

At this meeting, Karzai suggested U.S.-Afghan relations were at a breaking point.

“It is by all means the end of the rope here,” he said. “The end of the rope that nobody can afford such luxuries anymore.”

— CNN’s Susan Candiotti, Ross Levitt, Casey Wian, Moni Basu, Chelsea J. Carter and Tom Watkins contributed to this report.