Lawyer describes talk with Afghan killings suspect

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Updated: March 19, 2012, 6:40 PM

 
photoStaff Sgt. Robert Bales, left, participates in an exercise at the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., on Aug. 23. A senior U.S. official, Friday March 16, 2012 identified Bales as the man accused of killing 16 civilians in an attack on Afghan villagers five days ago. The man at the right is unidentified.

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FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. — The Army staff sergeant accused of slaughtering 16 Afghan civilians in a nighttime shooting rampage has a sketchy memory of the night of the massacre, his lawyer said Monday after meeting his client for the first time.

Lawyer John Henry Browne said Robert Bales remembers some details from before and after the killings, but very little or nothing of the time the military believes he went on a shooting spree through two Afghan villages.

“He has some memory of some things that happened that night. He has some memories of before the incident and he has some memories of after the incident. In between, very little,” Browne said by telephone from Fort Leavenworth, where Bales is being held.

Pressed on whether Bales can remember anything about the shooting, Browne said, “No,” but added: “I haven’t gotten that far with him yet.”

In an earlier interview with CBS, Browne said unequivocally that Bales can’t remember the shootings.

Bales, 38, has not been charged yet in the March 11 shootings, though charges could come this week. The killings sparked protests in Afghanistan, endangered relations between the two countries and threatened to upend American policy over the decade-old war.

Earlier Monday, Browne met with his client behind bars for the first time to begin building a defense and said the soldier gave a powerfully moving account of what it is like to be on the ground in Afghanistan.

Browne said he and Bales, who is being held in an isolated cell at the military prison, met for more than three hours at Fort Leavenworth.

“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 said. “It’s just really emotional.”

Browne, a Seattle attorney who defended serial killer Ted Bundy and a thief known as the “Barefoot Bandit,” has said he has handled three or four military cases. The defense team includes a military defense lawyer, Maj. Thomas Hurley. The lawyers have said they plan to meet with Bales this week.

Military officials have said that Bales, after drinking on a southern Afghanistan base, crept away to two villages overnight, shooting his victims and setting many of them on fire. Nine of the dead were children and 11 belonged to one family.

Bales arrived at Fort Leavenworth on Friday and is being held in the same prison as other prominent defendants. Pfc. Bradley Manning, who is charged with leaking classified documents to the WikiLeaks website, has been held there on occasion as he awaited trial.

Bales is “already being integrated into the normal pretrial confinement routine,” prison spokeswoman Rebecca Steed said.

The routine includes recreation, meals and cleaning the area where he is living. Steed said once his meetings with his attorneys are complete later in the week, Bales will resume the normal integration process.

Bales’ wife, Karilyn, offered her condolences to the victims’ families and said Monday she wants to know what happened. She said her family and her in-laws are profoundly sad, and that what they’ve read and seen in news reports is “completely out of character of the man I know and admire.”

“My family including my and Bob’s extended families are all profoundly sad. We extend our condolences to all the people of the Panjawai District, our hearts go out too all of them, especially to the parents, brothers, sisters and grandparents of the children who perished,” Karilyn Bales said in a statement.

Court records and interviews show that Bales had commendations for good conduct after four tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. He enlisted in the military after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

He also faced a number of troubles in recent years: A Florida investment job went sour, his Seattle-area home was condemned as he struggled to make payments on another, and he failed to get a recent promotion.