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US soldier charged in Afghan massacre

The 38-year-old set out from his base in Kandahar in the middle of the night, Sunday, walked into a nearby village where he broke into homes and opened fire on the families inside.

Staff sergeant Robert Bales, the American soldier accused of slaughtering more than a dozen Afghan civilians, has now been officially charged with 17 counts of murder, among other charges.

A ‘premeditated’ crime
Charges filed Friday against Bales themselves reflect the horror of the crime -- 17 counts of premeditated murder, more than half of them children, with at least two of the children shot at from arm range. Not only this, he allegedly set some of the bodies on fire.

As per the accusations, the 38-year-old set out from his base in Kandahar in the middle of the night, Sunday, walked into a nearby village where he broke into homes and opened fire on the families inside.

Rumor has it that he had his 9mm pistol and M-4 rifle, which was outfitted with a grenade launcher, killing four men, four women, two boys, and seven girls and burning some of the bodies.

The attack occurred in the Panjwai district of Kandahar Province, the spiritual birthplace of the Taliban. The dead bodies were found in Balandi and Alkozai villages - one north and one south of the base.

In the dreadful incident, seen by the locals as a ‘planned’ activity, 11 of the same family lost their lives.

Military prosecution faces hurdles
Buried without autopsies, in accordance with the Islamic tradition of a quick burial, the prosecution team is in the thick of the things to find some substantial evidence to build a strong case against the accused.

Even if taken care of this challenge, Bales’ case is headed towards more complexity, involving questions of his mental state and the role that the stresses of war and possible previous head injuries may have played in his alleged actions.

Eugene Fidell, former military prosecutor and former president of the National Institute of Military Justice, sounded a little less pessimistic about the prosecution’s chances in the case. “Memory loss does not get you off the hook if there's evidence of criminality. But the question is, what is the other evidence?”

Also under scrutiny is the slow pace of military justice, as has been evident in the recent cases. Be it the Major Nidal Hasan case who allegedly killed 13 people, and whose trial is yet to begin in June; or the Bradley Manning case in which it took nine months before he was deemed competent to stand trial.
And this delay sure is flaring the tempers of the re-insurgent Taliban high.

“We have no faith in any court proceedings,” said Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, “This was a planned activity and we will certainly take revenge on all American forces in Afghanistan.”