Suspect in Afghan Massacre has Memory Loss, Lawyer Says
By the CNN Wire Staff
(CNN) — An Army soldier accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians was not drunk but doesn’t remember what happened and is in shock, his attorney told CBS News on Monday.
The network reported Staff Sgt. Robert Bales met with three of his lawyers, including lead attorney John Henry Browne, for more than seven hours.
“He has an early memory of that evening, and he has a later memory of that evening, but he doesn’t have a memory of in between,” Browne said about the night of the shooting spree.
Contrary to some reports, Bales was not drunk, the attorney told CBS.
“He’s in shock. He’s fixated on the troops left on the ground, and what they’re accusing him of, and how that might have negative ramifications on his friends and compatriots,” Browne said.
Off camera, CBS reported the lawyer said he would not seek an insanity defense in the case but one of diminished capacity.
When asked whether his client had a message for his wife and children, Browne responded: “He loves them dearly, and he’s very anxious to talk to them.”
Rebecca Steed, a spokeswoman for the U.S. military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where the suspect is being held, confirmed the meeting between Browne and Bales earlier in the day but declined to provide details.
Repeated calls to the attorney after the Monday meeting were not returned.
Bales stands accused in the shooting rampage in southern Afghanistan’s Kandahar province, allegations that have strained already tense U.S.-Afghan relations and intensified a debate about whether to pull American troops ahead of their 2014 withdrawal.
Karilyn Bales, the suspect’s wife, released a statement Monday calling the rampage a “terrible and heartbreaking tragedy” and asking for some privacy.
“Our family has little information beyond what we read and see in the media. What has been reported is completely out of character of the man I know and admire. Please respect me when I say I cannot shed any light on what happened that night, so please do not ask,” she said. “Please allow us some peace and time as we try to make sense of something that makes no sense at all.”
After the March 11 shootings in two neighboring villages just outside a U.S. outpost in the Panjwai district, Afghan President Hamid Karzai demanded troops withdraw from villages and return to their bases. He said relations between the two countries were “at the end of their rope.”
If U.S. troops are not allowed to return to the villages and resume their mission, “the United States mission is changed,” retired Maj. Gen. James A. “Spider” Marks, a former commander of the U.S. Army Intelligence Center, told CNN on Sunday.
“Our commanders on the ground will determine that probably within about another week,” he said. “Within a couple of weeks, it would not be unusual, if there has not been a change in our posture inside those bases, that you can see forces coming back. It’s not inconceivable that that could happen.”
Karzai is pressing for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force to hand over security responsibility to Afghan forces by 2013, a year ahead of the agreed-upon plan.
U.S. President Barack Obama has made clear he intends to stick to the timetable set by NATO, though he is facing a growing demand inside and outside the United States to bring troops home early.
Afghans are demanding that the suspect in the shootings be returned to face trial in the country where the crimes allegedly occurred, even as villagers and lawmakers question the U.S. military’s account of what happened.
U.S. officials have said that Bales left his outpost and single-handedly carried out the killings in the villages that left nine children, three women and four men dead.
One villager, Ali Ahmed, told CNN multiple attackers had come into a home before dawn, asked his uncle where the Taliban were and shot him dead. But another villager, a boy, claimed it was just one person.
Afghanistan’s ambassador to the United States insisted Sunday that his nation trusts the U.S. investigation into the rampage. U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has promised Karzai a full investigation and said the United States will bring the shooter to justice.
“You couldn’t imagine a more difficult case, I don’t think,” Browne, Bales’ civilian attorney, told reporters shortly after arriving Sunday at the Kansas City, Missouri, airport.
“This case has political ramifications. It has legal ramifications. It has social ramifications.”
The trial will be held in the United States, though the location has not been decided, a U.S. Forces Afghanistan legal expert told reporters Sunday. “We will develop charges hopefully within the next week,” said the expert, who would not speculate on what they might be.
Discussions are under way for the United States to compensate relatives of the victims, the expert added.
The government of Afghanistan will not be present in the court, the expert said in response to a question.
But some Afghanis might be taken to the United States for Bales’ trial, the expert added. “If he is brought to trial, it is possible that Afghan witnesses and victims would be brought over,” the expert said. “But it’s very important for me to emphasize that we are very early in this process and we want to make sure that we do not make any speculations, which could undermine the United States’ ability to bring justice here.”
Accounts from the military, Bales’ family, friends and neighbors paint a portrait of a man who bore scars from wounds he received during previous combat tours to Iraq but remained passionately committed to service to his country, and deployed to Afghanistan in January.
Bales suffered a traumatic brain injury during a roadside bomb explosion and lost part of his foot in separate tours in Iraq, his attorney has said.
In between deployments, he settled down with his wife and their two young children near Joint Base Lewis-McChord outside Tacoma, Washington.
Family friends who knew Bales growing up in the Cincinnati suburb of Norwood, Ohio, couldn’t reconcile the allegations against the man they described as “quiet” and “very nice.”
But the accounts also show a man facing enormous financial pressure, being forced to put his Lake Tapps home on the market last week while another property was foreclosed.
CNN’s Sara Sidner in Kabul, Afghanistan, Paul Vercammen in Auburn, Washington, and Bill Kirkos contributed to this report.