x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Lawyer prepares to meet US soldier facing Afghan massacre charges

ohn Henry Browne flew to Kansas yesterday ahead of his first face-to-face meeting with Robert Bales, the US army sergeant who is facing charges in an attack on two Afghan villages that left 16 people dead.

SEATTLE // A Seattle defence lawyer prepared to meet yesterday with Robert Bales, the US army sergeant who is facing charges in an attack on two Afghan villages that left 16 people dead - including nine children.

John Henry Browne flew to Kansas yesterday ahead of his first face-to-face meeting with the 10-year army veteran, who is being held in an isolated cell at Fort Leavenworth's military prison.

Rebecca Steed, a Fort Leavenworth spokeswoman, said Sgt Bales would be able to meet Mr 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.

Sgt Bales, 38, has not been charged in the March 11 shootings, which have endangered relations between the US and Afghanistan and threaten to upend US policy over the decade-old war.

But formal charges are expected to be filed within a week and if the case goes to court the trial will be held in the United States, said a legal expert with the US military familiar with the investigation.

That expert said charges were still being decided and that the location for any trial had not yet been determined. If Sgt Bales 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 offence 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.

Sgt Bales' defence team said in a statement late on Saturday that "it is too early to determine what factors may have played into this incident and the defence team looks forward to reviewing the evidence, examining all of Sergeant Bales' medical and personnel records, and interviewing witnesses".

Military officials have said Sgt Bales, after drinking on a southern Afghanistan base, crept away March 11 to two villages overnight, shooting his victims and setting many of them on fire. Nine of the 16 killed were children and 11 belonged to one family.