Staff Sgt. Bales Describes Afghan Massacre, Offers No Explanation

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A sketch of Bales in court on Wednesday.
A sketch of Bales in court on Wednesday. Photo: Peter Millett

Staff Sgt. Robert Bales pleaded guilty Wednesday to murdering sixteen Afghans, including many women and children, in a military courtroom in Washington state. As part of a plea deal that allows him to avoid the death penalty, Bales was required to speak publicly about the March 11, 2012 massacre for the first time. However, the biggest question in the case remains unanswered. When the judge asked why Bales opened fire on innocent civilians in two villages, Bales said, "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.”

Bales slipped away from his base in Kandahar Province before dawn, armed with a 9-mm pistol and an M-4 rifle. Bales testified that he had not planned the massacre before heading to the nearby villages, saying, "I formed the intent as I raised my weapon." He later clarified that he struggled with an older woman upon entering one compound and "after the tussle" decided to "murder anyone that he saw." While survivors offered vivid testimony last fall about how Bales systematically slaughtered civilians as they pleaded for their lives, in court on Wednesday he only related the basic facts, ending each statement with, "This act was without legal justification." Bales said he doesn't recall setting the corpses on fire, "But I have seen pictures and it's the only thing that makes sense."

Bales was on his fourth deployment, and his lawyers say he suffered from PTSD and a traumatic brain injury. On the night of the killings he had been drinking alcohol and snorting Valium, and he said he'd been taking steroids to make himself "smaller, leaner, more fit for the mission." When the judge asked about the effect of the steroids, Bales answered, “Sir, it definitely increased my irritability and anger.”

Bales still faces a sentencing trial in August, which will determine whether he receives life in prison without parole, or life with the possibility of parole, in which case he could be released in ten years. "He is broken, he was broken, and we broke him," Bales' attorney, John Henry Browne, told CBS News. He added that Bales is worried about a backlash against soldiers still in Afghanistan, and "He's very concerned about [the] Afghan people and wants to apologize."