By Cheryl Pellerin
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 23, 2012 – U.S. Forces Afghanistan formally preferred criminal charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice today against Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales.
The charges, described in a statement from the command’s headquarters in the Afghan capital of Kabul, allege that on March 11 Bales acted with premeditation to murder 17 Afghan civilians and assaulted and tried to murder six other civilians near Belambey in the Panjwai district of Afghanistan’s Kandahar province.
“It’s the first step in this process,” Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. John Kirby told reporters this morning.
Bales, who is in pretrial confinement at the Midwest Joint Regional Correctional Facility in Fort Leavenworth, Kan., is assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.
The infantryman, who Army officials say completed sniper training and held three good conduct medals, was flown from Afghanistan on March 14 to a military detention facility in Kuwait. From there, he was transferred to Kansas.
The next step in the military justice process is for the special court-martial convening authority at Joint Base Lewis-McChord to decide whether to direct an investigation of the charges under the UCMJ’s Article 32. An Article 32 hearing is similar to a preliminary hearing in civilian law. No case can proceed to a general court-martial unless a command first conducts an Article 32 investigation. The investigating officer submits to the command a written report with nonbinding recommendations about the sufficiency of the charges and evidence.
The report helps the command determine an appropriate disposition of the charges.
Under the UCMJ, the maximum possible punishment for a premeditated murder conviction is a dishonorable discharge from the armed forces, reduction to the lowest enlisted grade, forfeiture of pay and allowances, and death. The minimum sentence is life imprisonment with eligibility for parole.
No disposition decision has been made yet about the preferred charges.
Preferral of charges represents an accusation of criminal misconduct only. As in U.S. civilian law, a military member accused of criminal misconduct is presumed innocent until proven guilty at a trial by court-martial.
“The investigation is ongoing,” Kirby said, “and it is possible that more charges could come until the investigation is closed.”