Afghans angry at 'lenient' Robert Bales massacre sentence

  • 6 June 2013
  • From the section Asia
Afghan men investigate the site of a shooting in Kandahar province in March 2012
Image caption Some of the victims' bodies were burned by Bales after he had shot them

Residents of Afghan villages where a US soldier went on a rampage last year have reacted with anger that he has escaped the death penalty.

At a US military hearing on Wednesday Staff Sgt Robert Bales, 39, admitted killing 16 civilians in March 2012.

A jury will decide in August whether he is sentenced to life with or without the possibility of parole.

The villagers in Kandahar province argue that he has been treated far too leniently and should be hanged.

Most of the victims were women or children, and many of them were shot in the head. Some of the bodies were piled up and burnt.

'Full of blood'

Friends and family members of those killed say they were stunned to learn that he has escaped capital punishment.

Image caption Samiullah argues that bereaved villagers feel let down by the US justice system

"It is our firm demand that Afghanistan, the US and the international community condemn this American to death. He martyred our family members... and went back with his body full of blood of his victims to his camp," bereaved villager Mullah Baran told the BBC.

Another villager, Haji Baqi, whose brother was killed by Bales, said: "We want him to be hanged. The international community should not ignore our grief."

Villager Samiullah said the life sentence meant that justice had not been done. His mother, uncle and cousin were killed.

"The criminal is not being punished," he said. "We want him to be dealt with as his deeds deserve."

At Wednesday's hearing, Bales read from a statement describing each killing in the same terms:

"I left the VSP [Village Stability Platform] and went to the nearby village of Alkozai. While inside a compound in Alkozai, I observed a female I now know to be Na'ikmarga. I formed the intent to kill Na'ikmarga, and I did kill Na'ikmarga by shooting her with a firearm. This act was without legal justification, sir."

Image caption Bales was charged with 16 counts of murder, six of attempted murder and seven of assault

When asked by military judge Col Jeffery Nance why he had carried out the murders, Bales responded: "There's not a good reason in this world for why I did the horrible things I did."

Defence lawyers have said Bales is contrite about the killings, and described him as "crazed" and "broken" on the night of the attack.

At the time, he was serving his fourth tour of duty and had been drinking alcohol and snorting Valium.

In addition to the 16 murdered, six Afghans were injured.

While prosecutors originally said they would seek the death penalty, no US service member has been executed in more than 50 years.

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