The pretrial hearing has started for Staff Sergeant Robert Bales in the March massacres at two Afghan villages. Witnesses testified during the second day of the hearing, saying that Bales was largely compliant and calm when he turned himself in.
They recalled that Bales followed orders and even cracked a joke at one point in a failed effort to release the tension around him, reports USA Today.
While he was mostly compliant, he also deliberately tried to destroy his laptop. One witness, Sergeant Ross O’Rourke, stated that he took the laptop out of Bales’ rucksack when the accused said he didn’t want to take it with him.
Bales then grabbed the laptop and folded back the screen, breaking it. The attempted mangling of the laptop did not prevent investigators on the case from retrieving information on it, though they haven’t released the information they collected.
Staff Sergeant Robert Bales is 39 years old and a veteran of four combat tours. He is facing 16 counts of premeditated murder, as well as six counts of attempted murder.
The pretrial hearing will determine if Bales’ case will go to a court martial. The Oregonian notes that Corporal David Goodwin testified during the first day of the hearing on Monday, saying that Bales asked him to bleach his blood-soaked clothes.
The attack on March 11 against the villages of Balandi and Alkozai caused the US to stop combat operations for days because of huge protests. Because of this, military investigators were not able to reach the crime scenes for a month.
Witness testimony and a prosecutor’s opening statement both suggest that Bales spent the evening before the massacre watching a movie about revenge killings with fellow soldiers. They also shared contraband whiskey and talked about an attack that cost one of their friends his leg.
Just a few hours later Bales embarked on a killing spree of his own, wearing a cape. He allegedly murdered 16 Afghan civilians before he returned to the base just before dawn. He seemed surprised when his fellow soldiers ordered him to surrender his weapons. A fellow soldier recalled Bales saying, “I thought I was doing the right thing.”
Sergeant Jason McLaughlin testified that Bales attacked one village then returned to his post, where he woke McLaughlin and told him what he had done. Bales then said that he was headed back out to attack another village. McLaughlin testified:
“I never got out of bed, sir. I thought it was ridiculously out of the realm of normal possibility, sir.”
Staff Sergeant Robert Bales has not entered a plea in the case and his attorneys have not discussed the evidence. They have said, however, that Bales has post-traumatic stress disorder and previously suffered a concussive head injury when he was deployed to Iraq.