“Prove it.” (Attorney John Henry Browne on charges against SSG Robert Bales/AP)
CHICAGO, March 23, 2012— Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales is accused of murdering Afghan citizens during what has been described as a nighttime killing spree. Nine children, three women, and four men were murdered. Some of the bodies were set on fire. It was a mass murder and a war atrocity, probably the worst to come out of the long duration of the Afghan and Iraq wars.
Sergeant Bales will supposedly be charged with 17 counts of murder, counts of attempted murder, aggravated assault, and other violations of military law today. He is being held at the military prison in Fort Leavenworth, where the Article 32 Hearing will take place.
Though he is accused of capital crimes, it is unlikely Bales will be executed if found guilty. The military has not executed a service member in nearly five decades. Though, if found guilty, he probably faces a forever prison sentence.
The public has been learning quite a bit about Sergeant Bales. What narrative is being spun and what are we really learning? Is Bales a heartless killer, a psychopath, or a man with severe mental and social problems too difficult to for him to handle?
Bales is portrayed as a sympathetic figure by anonymous members of the military, his family, former friends, and now his civilian attorney. John Henry Browne, SSG. Bales attorney, has a successful history of humanizing his clients. Two of his most famous clients were serial killer Ted Bundy and the Bare Foot Bandit, Colton Harris-Moore.
There are many claims being alleged: An untreated brain injury, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), alcohol, stress from financial problems, possible marriage problems, another long deployment, and being passed over for promotion are being attributed as causes for SSG. Bales alleged behavior.
There are also some reports of Bales alleged run-ins with civilian authorities while intoxicated.
There is also an unconfirmed story Bales was traumatized over the recent severe wounding of a fellow soldier.
Friends and family from Ohio, where Bales is from, paint a picture of a normal good neighbor kind of person. Except, there were accusations of fraud in an investment business Bales operated.
Bales personal history appears to paint a picture of saint and sinner. It will be interesting to see how this plays out in a court martial, the only place it matters. What the media and public think is irrelevant. Bales will be tried under the laws of the military where facts, evidence, and their relation to military law are all that counts.
Bales civilian attorney, along with an appointed military lawyer, will use a list of mitigating factors during pre-trial hearings, negotiations with prosecutors, and the trial itself in the best interests of his client.
After charging Bales will be examined to determine if he is fit to stand trial. Attorney Browne claims Bales has little memory of the incident, though he has vague memories of what occurred before and after.
The prosecution and defense have an interest in getting this, and any other psychological evaluation of Bales, done as soon as possible. Both can map out their trial strategies or plea negotiations, if they are offered.
The Uniform Code of Military Justice (USCMJ) is more efficient than state or federal legal systems. It is more protective of individual rights and liberties. The USCMJ is also fairer. USCMJ is one of the most standardized legal systems in the world. Is it perfect? No legal system is.
The issues involved are, one, can SSG. Bales will get a fair trial, due to nature of the crimes and deep embarrassment to the military and our government. Two, will there be justice for the victims of such an atrocious crime?
Fair trial is a nebulous term, though it is the ideal in the American jurisprudence system. The concept of a fair trial guarantees fairness to the accused. In our social and moral justice world it has been expanded to fairness for the victims and the public.
Few for the court of social justice are satisfied with the result of any trial, especially a high profile trial. Remember the outrage over the O.J. verdict or the celebration of Michael Jackson’s verdict.
Recently, there was national outrage over the Casey Anthony not guilty verdict. People are still crying for justice for her slain child, Caylee.
It appears the public has a higher stake in high profile cases and trials than the victims and the accused. Take the recent case of Trayvon Martin, for example. There has been national outrage and cries for justice for the slain teenager.
But, can his killer, George Zimmerman now get a fair trial if he is eventually arrested and charged? What if he is found innocent? Was justice served?
Who exactly is justice supposed to serve?
Under the USCMJ, Bales will get about as fair a trial as can be expected. His attorney has already pointed out perceived problems with the case. The crime scenes were contaminated, no fingerprints, the lack of witnesses, and Bales own alleged problems, both mental and social.
He probably has more information he cannot or will not divulge, such as statements made by Bales prior to and upon his arrest.
The outcome of this case will be an interesting exercise in our perceptions of justice, legal, social, and moral.
As a society, we could question who justice serves, but, whether we like it or not, it is the accused who is protected. The accused has legal rights and protections. The accused is innocent until proven guilty.
Sometimes, especially in the new world of social media mobs and the speed in which they form, we tend to forget this.
Sources AP/USA Today
Peter V. Bella is a retired Chicago Police Officer, freelance writer and photographer, cook, and raconteur. He likes to be the sharp stick that pokes, prods, and annoys. His opinions are his and his alone.
This article is the copyrighted property of the writer and Communities @ WashingtonTimes.com. Written permission must be obtained before reprint in online or print media. REPRINTING TWTC CONTENT WITHOUT PERMISSION AND/OR PAYMENT IS THEFT AND PUNISHABLE BY LAW.