US soldier behind Afghan massacre apologises for 'act of cowardice'
TACOMA, Washington (REUTERS) - A decorated United States (US) soldier who gunned down 16 unarmed Afghan civilians in a nighttime rampage last year apologised on Thursday at a sentencing hearing to determine his fate, calling the killings "an act of cowardice". Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, a veteran of four combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, has admitted to shooting the villagers, mostly women and children, in attacks on their family compounds in Kandahar province in March 2012.
"I am truly, truly sorry to all the people whose family members I have taken away. I have murdered their families," Bales told a jury in a military courtroom in Washington state, choking up at times. "What I did is an act of cowardice."
Bales pleaded guilty to the killings in June in a deal that will spare him the death penalty. A jury of six military personnel will ultimately decide if he will spend the rest of his natural life in prison or be eligible for parole after 20 years. Closing arguments are due on Friday.
Defence lawyers have been seeking to show that Bales suffered a breakdown under the pressure of his final deployment to Afghanistan. They have argued that he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and a brain injury even before his last deployment to Afghanistan.