An American soldier who plead guilty today to murdering 16 Afghan civilians told a judge today that there is "not a good reason in the world" for the "horrible things" he did.
Staff Sgt. Robert Bales appeared in a military courtroom where he publicly gave his account of the massacre for the first time.
When the judge, Col. Jeffery Nance, asked Bales what his reason was for killing the civilians, Bales said, "I've asked that question a million times since then. And there's not a good reason in the world for why I did the horrible things I did."
With simple "yes sir" and "no sir" responses, Bales affirmed that he killed the 16 people in March 2012, that he had no legal justification for the killing, that he was not acting in self-defense and that it was a freely made decision to kill them.
"Could you have avoided killing them if you wanted to?" the judge asked.
"Yes, sir," Bales replied.
The sergeant also said that he did not recall setting a compound on fire, but he did not contest that it was on fire.
"There was a kerosene lantern in the room and based on the evidence...that lantern was used to set those people on fire," Bales said.
The judge also asked Bales about the steroid he was using to build muscle tone with Bales saying it "definitely increased by irritability and anger."
Bales, 39, pleaded guilty today to 16 counts of premeditated murder, six counts of attempted murder and seven counts of assault. The judge accepted his guilty plea at the end of the hearing and scheduled the sentencing for Aug. 19.
His only not guilty plea was to a charge of impeding the investigation by destroying a laptop computer.
The charges stem from a massacre last year when Bales snuck out of his remote outpost in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar to go on a shooting spree in two nearby villages. The pre-dawn attack left 16 villagers dead and six injured. Nine of those killed were children.
Bales is a father of two from Lake Tapps, Wash. He is wearing military dress for the hearing and his wife sat in the front row.
Bales' attorney John Henry Browne said last week that Bales wanted to plead guilty as part of a deal in order to avoid the death penalty, according to the Associated Press.
In a November preliminary hearing, several of his fellow soldiers testified that Bales returned to the base alone just before dawn, covered in blood, and that he made incriminating statements such as, "I thought I was doing the right thing." Some of the blood on his person was later matched to at least one of the shooting victims, according to prosecutors.
Evidence was also presented that suggested Bales carried out the massacre as revenge for previous attacks on his unit, particularly a roadside bomb attack a few weeks earlier that severely wounded a fellow soldier. Bales did not testify during the two week hearing, which was to determine if he would face a court martial, but some of the surviving villagers did appear via satellite from Afghanistan.
Some of his squad mates admitted to having consumed alcohol prior to the attacks, but said Bales did not seem to have been incapacitated by the alcohol.
Bales' attorneys have said that their client's mental state may have possibly been clouded by the alcohol as well as steroids and sleeping aids he had taken, but prosecutors countered that comments made by Bales after he was apprehended demonstrated he had a clear state of mind about the violent acts he is alleged to have committed.
An Army press release said that Bales faces a maximum punishment of death if he is convicted of the charges against him. However, the release noted it may be difficult for prosecutors to obtain such a sentence.
"For capital punishment to be imposed, the court-martial members must unanimously find: the service member is guilty of the eligible crime; at least one aggravating factor exists; and that the aggravating factor must substantially outweigh any extenuating or mitigating circumstances found by the court-martial members," it says.
There has not been a military execution since 1961.