Who Will Get the Harsher Sentence -- The Mass-murderer or the Man of Conscience?
August 21, 2013
Military courts are preparing to render verdicts in the case of a US soldier who murdered 16 Afghan civilians and another soldier who exposed US war crimes. It appears that the mass-murdered may get the lighted sentence. Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, who pleaded guilty in June, faces life in prison but may be granted the chance of parole. Meanwhile, Pfc. Bradley Manning faces up to 90 years in prison for leaking classified documents and video footage to WikiLeaks.
Court to Sentence Bales for Massacre of Afghans
(August 20, 2013) -- Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, who pleaded guilty in June, faces life in prison but may be granted the chance of parole
The sentencing phase in the murder trial of US Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales is set to begin Tuesday, with Bales expected to fight for a chance at parole. Bales, who pleaded guilty in June to killing 16 Afghan villagers in March 2012, was spared the death penalty as part of a plea agreement.
In what appears to be a damaging development against him, Army prosecutors said Monday they have a recording of a phone call in which Bales, a father of two from Washington state, and his wife laugh as they review the charges filed against him.
The mass killing of the villagers -- mostly women and children -- is the worst case of civilian slaughter blamed on a single, rogue US soldier since the Vietnam War. The incident further strained relations between the United States and Afghanistan after more than a decade of US involvement in the country.
Bales faces life in prison, and the sentencing on Tuesday will determine if he has the possibility of parole. Under the plea agreement, he will be spared the death penalty, and if he is granted the chance of parole, he could be released after 20 years, minus time already served and credit for good behavior, Reuters reported.
Bales' attorneys said they would argue that post-traumatic stress disorder and a brain injury were factors in the killings.
"Our general theme is that Sgt. Bales snapped," said John Henry Browne, one of his civilian attorneys. "That's kind of our mantra, and we say that because of all the things we know -- the number of deployments, the head injuries, the PTSD, the drugs, the alcohol."
Bales was on his fourth combat deployment when the killings took place. He had been drinking and watching a movie with other soldiers at Camp Belambay in Kandahar province. Just before dawn Bales slipped away, armed with a 9-mm pistol and an M-4 rifle, and killed 16 civilians in the village of Alkozai, the court was told.
He returned to base and woke another soldier and told him what happened. But the soldier didn't believe Bales and went back to sleep. Bales left again to attack a second village, Najiban.
The massacre sparked angry protests in Afghanistan, causing the US to temporarily halt combat operations in the country. Meanwhile, it took three weeks before Army investigators could reach the crime scene.
Prosecutors hope to show that Bales had a pattern of bad behavior that predated his multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, pointing to the phone call between him and his wife.
"It certainly goes to evidence in aggravation, the attitude of lack of remorse," Lt. Col. Rob Stelle told the judge.
Bales' lawyers argued that playing just snippets of the conversation would put them out of context. As a result, Nance ruled that the entire phone call, over two hours, would be played for the jury.
The defense also challenged the prosecution's calling as an expert witness an Afghan man who has interviewed survivors of the shooting and family members of victims. The victims "are capable of speaking for themselves," said Emma Scanlan, another of Bales' civilian attorneys.
Nance said he would permit the expert to testify in general terms about how traumatic events and their aftermath are dealt with in Pashtun culture but would allow "no speculation about the specific impact on these specific victims."
Some survivors are scheduled to speak during the proceedings this week.
Several villagers testified by video link from Afghanistan during a hearing last year, including a young girl in a bright headscarf who described hiding behind her father as he was shot to death. Boys told of begging the soldier to spare them, yelling, "We are children! We are children!" A thick-bearded man told of being shot in the neck by a gunman from an arm's length away.
The villagers, some of whom have expressed outrage that Bales is going to escape the death penalty, have not encountered him in person since the attack, nor have they heard him apologize. Bales, who told a judge at his plea hearing that he couldn't explain why he committed the killings, did not say then that he was sorry, but his lawyers hinted that an apology might be forthcoming at his sentencing.
At one point during his plea hearing, the judge asked Bales why he killed the villagers.
Bales responded, "Sir, as far as why -- 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."
Al Jazeera and wire services
Judge to Sentence Bradley Manning on Wednesday
(August 20, 2013) -- US soldier faces up to 90 years in prison for leaking classified documents and video footage to WikiLeaks
A US military judge announced that she will sentence Pfc. Bradley Manning on Wednesday for providing more than 700,000 military and diplomatic documents to WikiLeaks, the largest leak of classified information in the country’s history.
Army Col. Denise Lind said Tuesday she was still deliberating, but she was confident she would have a sentence by Wednesday at 10 a.m. EDT.
Manning, 25, faces up to 90 years in prison for leaking Iraq and Afghanistan battlefield reports and State Department diplomatic cables while working as a low-level intelligence analyst in Baghdad.
He also leaked a classified video of a US helicopter attack in Baghdad in 2007 in which a dozen people were killed, including a Reuters news photographer and his driver.
Manning was convicted in July on 20 counts, including six Espionage Act violations, five theft counts and computer fraud.
He was found not guilty on the most serious charge, aiding the enemy, which had carried a possible sentence of life in prison without parole.
'Value in Deterrence'
Prosecutors have asked for at least a 60-year prison term. Capt. Joe Morrow said in his closing argument Monday that a long prison sentence would dissuade other soldiers from following in Manning's footsteps.
"There's value in deterrence," Morrow said.
The defense has suggested a prison term of no more than 25 years, so that Manning could rebuild his life productively after his release. Defense attorney David Coombs asked for a sentence that "doesn't rob him of his youth."
Manning's defense argued that the soldier had hoped to spark a broader debate on the role of the US military and to make Americans aware of the nature of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
According to defense testimony, military supervisors ignored erratic behavior by Manning that included trying to grab a gun during a counseling session.
Defense attorneys had argued that such actions showed that the soldier, who was increasingly isolated while deployed to Iraq, was not fit for duty overseas.
During a pretrial hearing, Lind reduced Manning's sentence by 112 days because of harsh treatment after his arrest in 2010. He will likely be imprisoned at the US Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.
Earlier this year, Manning pleaded guilty to lesser charges, but military prosecutors continued their effort to convict him on more serious counts.
He apologized to the court for what he had done, saying: "I understand I must pay a price for my decisions."
Manning must serve at least one-third of any prison sentence before becoming eligible for parole. He will get credit for about three and a half years of pretrial confinement.
Al Jazeera and wire services
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