Attorney John Henry Browne, who is representing Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, the man accused of killing 17 Afghan civilians earlier this year, is questioning whether the crime, as it has been reported, even occurred.
“I certainly haven’t seen any proof of that,” Browne said when asked whether 17 people were even killed that night outside of Kandahar. “The military have been very reluctant to share anything with us,” he added.
Browne said that an Australian journalist who has interviewed supposed witnesses to the incident has heard very different stories from the one put forth by the military. Every witness who’s been interviewed “has a completely different story,” Browne said.
Browne also accused the military of intentionally making it difficult to set the story straight by withholding evidence. Bales was allegedly identified moving about outside his base around the time of the shooting by surveillance video taken from a blimp. Browne said that although the military initially said they would allow his team to see that video, it has so far refused.
“They promised us we’d be able to interview the witnesses, alleged witnesses, and we’d be able to look at this blimp photograph,” Bales said, alleging that witnesses were prematurely released from custody, and that a chance to see the photograph has been denied. “So we really don’t have information.”
And Browne said it’s not only the defense team lacking information. The prosecution, he says, is facing a steep burden of proof considering the lack of evidence.
“There’s no crime scene, no DNA, I’m told that one of the villages where this supposedly happened doesn’t even exist anymore,” Browne said. “How are they going to prove anything?”
The prospect thatpost-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, would be a factor in Bales’ defense, has been floated about since soon after he was identified as a suspect. But Browne said he has no immediate plans to focus his defense on that.
“I’m a defense lawyer, so I’m not convinced they can prove anything,” Browne said. “So, until I’m convinced, they can prove something I’m not going to go into any sort of mental defenses or anything.”
However, Browne remains convinced that Bales has suffered war injuries, including a concussive head injury suffered from a rollover IED in Iraq. Bales has served four tours of duty.
“This is a guy who’s been depoloyed four times, the military knew he had a head injury. They knew he had other head injuries, and a lot of military people are contacting me off the record sometimes saying he never should have been sent back, period.”
Browne added that Bales isn’t the only person who was asked to stretch himself beyond what could be reasonably expected.
“I think there is a real story here about the war, what we are asking these folks to do,” Browne said.
An Emotional Meeting
Browne, who recently finished his defense of Colton Harris-Moore, known as the Barefoot Bandit, and also defended serial killer Ted Bundy, described his first meeting with the defendant as extremely moving.
“The first our or two that I spent with Sgt. Bales when I met him was emotional, very very emotional,” he said. “And by the time we were done, all four of us, my associate Emma Scanlon, myself, this wise old JAG lawyer, and Sgt. Bales, were all pretty much in tears, him telling us what he’s had to go through in Iraq and what he’s had to go through in Afghanistan.”
Bales, he said, was not the kind of man he expected.
“He’s a lot more intelligent than I expected him to be, and his wife is really smart,” Browne said.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun