Lawyer for soldier accused of Afghan slaughter: ‘almost complete information blackout’
By End the Lie
John Henry Browne, the attorney for Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, the man accused of single-handedly massacring 17 Afghan villagers, is now accusing the United States government of “an almost complete information blackout” which is blocking him from preparing a proper defense for Bales.
Browne alleges that he and his legal team has been prevented from being able to interview the witnesses to the tragic incident as well as the injured civilians in southern Afghanistan.
“We were expecting a lot more cooperation. The prosecutors in this case promised us a lot of cooperation which we’re just not getting,” Browne said to reporters in Seattle, Washington.
“We are facing an almost complete information blackout from the government, which is having a devastating effect on our ability to investigate the charges preferred against our client,” he added.
38-year-old Bales allegedly strolled out of his base in Kandahar, a southern Afghan province, without being stopped or questioned, early on March 11, after which he conducted a merciless, calculated assault on two villages killing 17 civilians, including women and children.
However, this case has been rife with inconsistencies and unanswered questions, especially surrounding the possibility of multiple soldiers being involved in the tragic killings.
Indeed, an Afghan parliamentary probe concluded that there were 15-20 U.S. soldiers involved in the murders. This finding was seemingly contradicted by a report from AP which cited alleged statements from two officials who did not participate in the probe and the U.S. government has claimed that only Bales was involved from day one.
Furthermore, child witnesses provided accounts to a journalist for Australia’s SBS Dateline which completely contradict the U.S.’s official account.
Yalda Hakim, the journalist who covered the story, says that American investigators attempted to prevent her from interviewing the children, although she gained access through appeals directly to Afghan village leaders.
The eyewitness testimony of the children is quite detailed and it seems to be in line with the testimony of other Afghans who have cast doubt on the official story.
It has also now emerged that the killings might have been conducted in two separate outings, which makes it even harder to explain how the base’s leadership was unaware of the fact that Bales had left the base for an extended period of time, or potentially two extended periods separated by a visit to the base.
Browne just met Bales earlier this month at the Fort Leavenworth military base in Kansas, where Bales is being held. Currently, Bales is facing 17 counts of premeditated murder and six counts of assault and attempted murder.
Browne has complained that his team made very little progress with their investigation on the ground in Afghanistan.
“When we tried to interview the injured civilians being treated at Kandahar Hospital, we were denied access and told to coordinate with the prosecution team,” the team said.
The following day, prosecutors were allowed to interview the injured Afghan civilians, but Browne’s team then discovered that “the civilians were all released from the hospital and there was no contact information for them” shortly after the prosecutors finished questioning them.
“In addition, we are being denied access to the injured civilians medical records that are in the possession of the government which makes it even more impossible for us to try to locate and interview these crucial witnesses,” the team added.
“The prosecution is withholding the entire investigative file from the defense team while the potential witnesses scatter into unknown and potentially inaccessible areas in Afghanistan,” the team noted, which would be wholly unacceptable in any traditional legal context.
The notion of prosecutors withholding their files from the defense’s legal team is diametrically opposed to everything that the American justice system is supposed to stand for.
Furthermore, Browne says that his team has not been shown the video which allegedly shows Bales. One must wonder if this is the same video viewed by the Afghan parliamentary probe which apparently was not compelling enough to bring them to agree with the American government’s conclusions.
However, since this is a military trial, the defense does not have the right to what is known as “shared discovery” information until 30 days before the preliminary hearing, known as an Article 32 hearing.
“In this case, they actually promised us that if we sent people to Afghanistan… they would cooperate, and make witnesses available for us. And they’ve obviously violated that promise,” Browne said, according to AFP.
Due to the lack of cooperation from the government, Browne has actually threatened to withhold their cooperation. This could have a significant impact since the defense will have access to the results of Bales’ “sanity review,” which will not be made officially available the prosecution.
“If they want cooperation from us they better start cooperating more,” Browne said.
Earlier this week, Browne said that Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) will likely play a large part in their defense. He also claimed that government prosecutors will not be able to easily prove their case against Bales.
It remains to be seen if details will continue to emerge which question the official account of the tragedy, or if all of the witnesses will mysteriously disappear or be unavailable for interview as they were when Browne’s legal team attempted to reach them.
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