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US Soldier Faces 17 Murder Counts; Afghans Express Little Faith in US Justice System

Staff Sgt. Robert Bales to be charged for massacre as Taliban vow revenge and civilians express doubt over punishment

Common Dreams staff

Staff Sergeant Bales is accused of killing 17 Afghan civilians in Kandahar province.

US Army Staff Srgt. Robert Bales is expected to be officially charged with 17 counts of murder today for the massacre of men, women, and children in Afghanistan earlier this month. The announcement was made by US Army officials on Thursday evening. Afghans, including members of Taliban forces, expressed doubt that the US judicial system could be trusted to bring justice to the man.

The officials who spoke to media reporters expressed hope that the announcement would bring satisfaction to Afghans, but acknowledge that a trial or court martial could still be years away.

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The Los Angeles Times: Bales to face murder charges in Afghanistan killings

Bales allegedly left his military base about 3 a.m. on March 11 and headed for two nearby villages, where he is believed to have gone house to house gunning down Afghan civilians. [...]

U.S. officials had said there were 16 victims, including a dozen women and children. The two officials describing the pending charges could not explain Thursday why Bales was being charged with 17 counts of murder, but it suggested that investigators had learned of another victim.

U.S. and Afghan investigators have revisited the villages in Panjwayi district in Kandahar province since the killings.


Al-Jazeera: Distrust, Dismay among Afghans; Taliban Vow Revenge

The news prompted dismay in Afghanistan on Friday where a relative of many of those killed in the massacre called for Bales to be tried in Afghanistan.

Haji Samad, an elder whose family members were among those killed, said: "We want the prosecution of this American soldier in Afghanistan not in the US, because he committed the crime in Afghanistan.

"Why he is going to be prosecuted in the US? If this man is prosecuted in Afghanistan, we will be relieved. If he is prosecuted in the US, we will be angry and it will remain a pain in our hearts."

A Taliban spokesman said the group had no faith in any trial planned for the accused soldier, and called for revenge against US forces working in the country.

"This was a planned activity and we will certainly take revenge on all American forces in Afghanistan and don't trust such trials," Zabihullah Mujahid, the spokesman, told Reuters by telephone.

He reiterated claims held by many Afghans that there must have been more than one soldier involved in the massacre, claims US authorities have consistently denied.

'Cleverness and deception'

"Now America tries to deceive the people and tries to blame the act on one soldier. This is a crime by the American
government. Using such cleverness and deception is a huge crime," Mujahid said.

Al Jazeera's James Bays, reporting from Kabul, said: "[The Taliban say] they don't feel that there will be a fair trial in the United States.

"I think they are looking at some of the comments that have come through in the press, talking about the background to this - why the soldier may have been pushed over the edge, why he may have carried out these killings.

"If you speak to ordinary Afghans they will tell you that there are no such explanations given when someone joins the Taliban and, many times, there are traumatic events that drive people to join the Taliban too," Bays added.

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Reuters video: Afghans want death penalty for U.S. soldier


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