Friday, May 24, 2013
Gene Johnson / The Associated Press
FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. — A Seattle lawyer who is defending an Army staff sergeant suspected of killing 16 Afghans, including nine children, met today with the soldier for the first time at Fort Leavenworth, a conversation the attorney described as emotional.
Sgt. Robert Bales
Lawyer John Henry Browne said he met for more than three hours with Robert Bales, a 10-year Army veteran who is being held in an isolated cell at the military prison.
"What's going on on the ground in Afghanistan, you read about it, I read about it, but it's totally different when you hear about it from somebody who's been there," Browne told The Associated Press by telephone during a lunch break. "It's just really emotional."
Bales, 38, and Browne are expected to meet again this afternoon.
Bales has not been charged yet in the March 11 shootings, which have endangered relations between the U.S. and Afghanistan and threatened to upend American policy over the decade-old war. Formal charges are expected to be filed within a week.
Post spokeswoman Rebecca Steed said earlier that Bales would be able to meet Browne in what is described as a privileged visit. Along with medical visits, such meetings are generally more private than others conducted in the prison.
Bales is "already being integrated into the normal pre-trial confinement routine," Steed said.
That includes recreation, meals and cleaning the area where he is being housed. Steed said once his meetings with his attorney are complete later in the week, Bales will resume the normal integration process.
His day begins at 5 a.m., with a meal at 5:15. Then it's back to his cell and then to any scheduled meetings with medical, dental or mental health professionals. This is the time he also would be meeting with Browne.
People in pre-trial confinement eat separate from the general population for all meals in the same dining hall. Bales is being held in an area with about a dozen other service members who are awaiting the legal process, Steed said.
Among those being held at Fort Leavenworth are Pfc. Bradley Manning, charged in the WikiLeaks case, and Sgt. John Russell, who faces charges in the shooting deaths of five service members at a combat stress clinic in Baghdad.
If the case goes to court, the trial will be held in the United States, said a legal expert with the U.S. military familiar with the investigation who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the case.
That expert said charges were still being decided and that the location for any trial had not yet been determined. If the suspect is brought to trial, it is possible that Afghan witnesses and victims would be flown to the United States to participate, he said.
Military lawyers say once attorneys involved in the initial investigation of an alleged crime involving a service member have what they believe to be a solid understanding of what happened and are satisfied with the evidence collected, they draft charges and present them to a commander. That person then makes a judgment on whether there is probable cause to believe that an offense was committed and that the accused committed it.
That commander then "prefers" the charges to a convening authority, who typically is the commander of the brigade to which the accused is assigned but could be of higher rank.
Bales' defense team said in a statement late Saturday that "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 Bales' medical and personnel records, and interviewing witnesses."
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