The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

June 1, 2012

Army adds charges against Afghan shooting suspect


From The Associated Press

SEATTLE — The Army dropped a murder charge, but added others, including steroid use, against a soldier accused in a deadly shooting rampage in Afghanistan, his lawyer said Friday.

Staff Sgt. Robert Bales is now accused of gunning down 16 civilians in a pre-dawn raid on two Afghan villages in March. Initial reports pinned the number of dead at 16, but the Army put the figure at 17 when it first charged Bales.

Due to discrepancies in the names on lists of the victims, officials had apparently counted one of them twice, but are now certain there were 16 killed, said Lt. Col. Gary Dangerfield, a spokesman for Joint Base Lewis-McChord south of Seattle, where Bales is based.

His attorney, Emma Scanlan, said there was nothing surprising in the new charges, which also accuse Bales of assaulting an unidentified Afghan male with his hands and knees the month before the shooting.

“We’re looking forward to putting on a defense and seeing what they can prove,” she said. The Army dropped off 5,000 pages of discovery materials at the defense team’s office on Friday, she said.

Bales now faces 16 counts of premeditated murder; six of attempted murder; seven of assault; one of possessing steroids; one of using steroids; one of destroying a laptop computer; one of burning bodies; and one of using alcohol.

“At some point, steroid use could become an issue in this case, and where he got it could become an issue in this case,” said Bales’ other lawyer, John Henry Browne. He declined to comment further.

The charges said Bales used steroids or alcohol in the months before rampage.

A 2008 survey by the Department of Defense showed that 2.5 percent of Army personnel had illegally used steroids within the past year — a jump of a full percentage point from three years earlier. Anecdotal reports have suggested that use is not uncommon among soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Increased irritability and aggression — “‘roid rage” — is a side effect of steroid use.

According to documents obtained in 2010 under a public records request by The Seattle Times, several soldiers in a Lewis-McChord battalion, including a captain, admitted using steroids to bulk up just before a 2009 deployment. They estimated that at least half of the 700 soldiers in their battalion had used steroids.

Bales was assigned to a different battalion.

Dan Conway, a military defense lawyer who has handled several high-profile cases, said he recently had a client who was sentenced to five months after being convicted of steroid use. The soldier reported that many in his chain of command — including his first sergeant and his battalion’s executive officer — used the drugs.

Witnesses testified that German and Latvian soldiers were frequently seen using steroids at the gyms, and steroids were sold at all of the bazaars, both on and off base, in Afghanistan, Conway said.

Dr. Richard Adler, a Seattle psychiatrist who is a consultant for Bales’ defense team, said the Army has not publicly provided enough information to judge how significant a role, if any, steroids may have played in the massacre.

“The presumption that the alleged steroid use is somehow the magic answer to what transpired. I am skeptical,” Adler said. “There are still many, many issues that will need a thorough review” — including reports that Bales had suffered a head injury during one of his three prior deployments and whether he was taking any other medications.

Bales, a father of two from Lake Tapps, Wash., is accused of walking off the base where he was deployed in southern Afghanistan with a 9 mm pistol and M-4 rifle outfitted with a grenade launcher. Officials say he walked to two local villages, where he killed the villagers and then burned some of their bodies.

Bales is being held at the military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.