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Death penalty sought for 16 Afghan killings

– The U.S. Army said Wednesday it will seek the death penalty against the soldier accused of killing 16 Afghan villagers in a predawn rampage in March, a decision his lawyer called “totally irresponsible.”

The announcement followed a pretrial hearing last month for Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, 39, who faces premeditated murder and other charges in the attack.

The slayings drew such angry protests that the U.S. temporarily halted combat operations in Afghanistan, and it was three weeks before American investigators could reach the crime scenes.

Prosecutors said Bales left his remote southern Afghanistan base early on March 11, attacked one village and returned to the base, then slipped away again to attack another nearby compound. Of the 16 people killed, nine were children.

His civilian lawyer, John Henry Browne, told The Associated Press he met with Army officials last week to argue his client shouldn’t face the possibility of the death penalty, given that Bales was serving his fourth deployment in a war zone when the killings occurred.

“The Army is not taking responsibility for Sgt. Bales and other soldiers that the Army knowingly sends into combat situations with diagnosed PTSD, concussive head injuries and other injuries,” Browne said. “The Army is trying to take the focus off the failure of its decisions, and the failure of the war itself, and making Sgt. Bales out to be a rogue soldier.”

Bales’ defense team has said the government’s case is incomplete, and outside experts have said a key question will be whether Bales suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder. Bales grew up in the Cincinnati suburb of Norwood, Ohio, and served tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

An Army criminal investigations command special agent testified earlier that Bales tested positive for steroids three days after the killings, and other soldiers testified that Bales was drinking the evening of the massacre. But prosecutors have pointed to statements Bales made after he was apprehended, saying they showed a “clear memory of what he had done, and consciousness of wrongdoing.”

The U.S. military has not executed anyone since 1961. There are five men currently facing military death sentences, but none for killings committed in war zones, according to the Death Penalty Information Center.

Nidal Hasan, charged in the 2009 rampage that killed 13 and wounded more than two dozen others at Fort Hood in Texas, also could face the death penalty if convicted; no date has been set for his court martial.

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