A decorated US soldier accused of killing 16 Afghan villagers in two forays from his remote military camp was ordered to face a court martial before a military panel that could impose the death penalty if he is found guilty, the military said on Wednesday.
The announcement followed a pretrial hearing last month for Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, 39, who faces premeditated murder and other charges in the attack on two villages in Kandahar province, southern Afghanistan.
The slayings drew such angry protests that the US temporarily halted combat operations in the country, and it was three weeks before American investigators could reach the crime scenes. The shootings, among the deadliest involving civilians that the military has blamed on an individual US soldier since the Vietnam War, further damaged already strained US-Afghan relations.
Prosecutors said Bales left his remote base early on March 11, attacked one village and returned to the base before leaving again to attack another nearby compound. Of the 16 people killed, nine were children.
Bales’ civilian lawyer, John Henry Browne, told AP news agency he met with army officials last week to argue his client shouldn’t face the possibility of the death penalty, given that Bales was serving his fourth deployment in a war zone when the killings occurred.