An American soldier suspected of killing 16 civilians in Afghanistan, Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, met Monday with his lawyer at the military detention center at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Bales, who is based near Tacoma, Washington, is expected to face charges within a week.
Family members said they are stunned by the accusation that Bales left his Afghan base March 11 and went on a killing rampage that left 16 people dead in two villages, including three women and nine children. Military officials have said Bales carried out the attacks after a night of heavy drinking, and that he set many of the victims on fire.
Friends describe a very different man and say the 38-year-old father of two was polite and friendly. Stuart Ness is a neighbor in the suburb south of Seattle where Bales lived with his family. He said the stresses of war can change a man.
“I was in the military, I was in Vietnam, I was an infantry guy like he was," said Ness. "And war does terrible, terrible things to you, and I think everybody would agree that nobody would do something like that if they were really thinking clearly."
Friends in Ohio, where Bales grew up, recall a young man who was captain of his football team and who cared for a disabled neighbor after school. Bales joined the Army shortly after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
His attorney, John Henry Browne, said he faces challenges in court. "You couldn't imagine a more difficult case, I don't think," he said. "I mean, every challenge. This case has political ramifications, it has legal ramifications, it has social ramifications, so you couldn't really imagine a bigger case."
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Bales was a decorated solider who had commendations for good conduct and superior performance. He served three tours in Iraq, where he lost part of a foot and suffered a concussive head injury.
He has had several run-ins with the law. He was charged with assaulting a girlfriend in 2002, but the charges were dropped after Bales took a course in anger management. He was charged in a hit-and-run traffic accident in 2008, but those charges were also dropped.
Bales' lawyer has denied suggestions that the soldier's marriage was shaky, but like many homeowners, the couple faced financial problems. The value of their house had dropped to a point below the amount that they owe on it, and a second property is in default.
Bale's wife said in an online blog that he was disappointed at being passed over for a promotion, and that he had hoped for a posting in Germany, Italy or Hawaii - some place other than Iraq or Afghanistan.
His lawyer said he will discuss with his client the possibility that Bales suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome that had not been properly diagnosed.
The killings have already strained U.S.-Afghan relations and provoked angry reactions throughout Afghanistan.