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Originally published August 23, 2013 at 8:38 PM | Page modified August 23, 2013 at 9:43 PM

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Afghans decry Bales’ sentence: life without parole

Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales was sentenced Friday to life in prison without parole for the killings of 16 Afghan civilians. Survivors of the 2012 massacre who testified were disappointed.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD — Afghan citizens who traveled halfway around the world to see justice served to the man who killed their loved ones last year said the sentence Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales received Friday — life without parole — was not nearly enough.

“We wanted this murderer to be executed,” Haji Wasir, who lost 11 family members in the March 11, 2012, massacre, said through an interpreter. “We came all the way to the U.S. to see if justice would be served, but we didn’t get it. Justice was served the American way.”

Bales, 40, of Lake Tapps, Pierce County, was on his fourth deployment when he left a remote military outpost in Kandahar province in the middle of the night, walked to two nearby villages and indiscriminately shot 22 people.

To avoid the death penalty, he pleaded guilty in June to the murders of the 16 who died in his raids — women, children and unarmed men.

The only possible sentences were life in prison without parole, or life with the possibility of release after 20 years.

Bales displayed little emotion as the sentence was read; his mother and several others sitting behind him wept. The jury of six high-ranking soldiers who decided his punishment had deliberated for less than two hours.

“I saw his mother trying to cry, but at least she can go visit him,” Mohammad Haji Naeem, who was shot in the neck, said through an interpreter after the sentencing. “What about us? Our family members are actually 6 feet under.”

A commanding general overseeing the court-martial has the option of reducing the sentence to life with the possibility of parole.

During the sentencing hearing this week, prosecutors and survivors of the attack described the massacre in detail.

In his closing argument before the jury, Lt. Col. Jay Morse displayed photographs of some of the victims, including a 3-year-old girl who was shot in the head. She died while lying at her father’s side, where she should have been safest, Morse said.

He also played a soundless black-and-white video that he said showed Bales making his way back to the base wrapped in a blanket he’d stolen from a home where he’d murdered 11 people and then set them on fire.

Morse said Bales’ walk and his demeanor showed he did not see enemies all around him, as the defense had argued. Instead, Morse said, it was the walk of a coldblooded, confident killer who had accomplished his mission.

According to Morse, Bales broke into a run as he neared the outpost because he expected to be greeted by friends, and that he triumphantly told another soldier he passed, “My count is 20.”

Bales was shocked, the prosecutor said, when he was arrested at the gate.

Defense attorney Emma Scanlan told the panel that life in prison was the proper sentence for Bales, but she asked the panel to at least consider giving Bales a slim chance at parole because he’d been a good man and a good soldier before.

In earlier testimony, Bales’ friends and colleagues described him as a well-liked student-athlete growing up, a man moved to get married and to enlist in the military after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Another defense attorney, John Henry Browne, has previously said Bales suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, was under enormous financial and personal stress at the time of the murders and that he had just snapped.

In testimony Thursday, Bales, a married father of two, apologized to the relatives of his victims, his family and the Army. But he never explained why he committed the killings.

After Friday’s session, Bales was escorted out of the courtroom by military police, and his relatives and attorneys left without comment.

A spokesman for the Army said Bales would be transported to the military detention facility at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., sometime within the next two weeks.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983 or cclarridge@seattletimes.com

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