UPDATE: 11:50 a.m., 3/23/12
Here is the formal press release regarding Robert Bales' charges that came down a few minutes ago:
Criminal charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) were formally preferred today against U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales. The charges allege that, on or about March 11, 2012, SSG Bales did, with premeditation, murder seventeen Afghan civilians and assaulted and attempted to murder six other civilians at or near Belambey, Panjwa’i District of Afghanistan’s Kandahar province.
Staff Sergeant Bales is assigned to 2d Battalion, 3d Infantry Regiment (Rear) (Provisional), headquartered at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington. He is currently in pre-trial confinement at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
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, total forfeiture of pay and allowances, and death (with a mandatory minimum sentence of imprisonment for life with eligibility for parole).
The next procedural 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 UCMJ Article 32. An Article 32 investigating officer submits to the command a written report with non-binding recommendations concerning the sufficiency of the charges and evidence. The report aids the command in determining an appropriate disposition of the charges. The charges may not be referred to a general court-martial absent a prior Article 32 investigation.
No disposition decision has been made concerning the preferred charges. Preferral of charges represents an accusation of criminal misconduct only. In accordance with U.S. law, a military member accused of criminal misconduct is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty at a trial by court-martial.
Joint Base Lewis-McChord Staff Sgt. Robert Bales will be formally charged today with 17 counts of murder in connection with a killing spree of civilians in Afghanistan, reports the Associated Press.
The 38-year-old from Lake Tapps also will be charged with six counts each of attempted murder and aggravated assault, as well as a number of other violations of military law, an official told the AP on condition of anonymity.
Earlier this month, Bales allegedly left his base in Afghanistan, walked to a town and attacked the victims as they slept in their beds, shooting them and burning some of their bodies.
He is currently at a military prison in . It could be months before a trial actually begins.
The number of formal charges of murder is one more than the Army originally suspected. According to the AP story, here's why:
"Military authorities had originally said Bales was suspected in the killing of 16 Afghan villagers, nine children and seven adults. They changed that Thursday to 17, raising the number of adults by one but without explaining how the change came about. It's possible some of the dead were buried before U.S. military officials arrived at the scene of the carnage. Six Afghans were wounded in the attack."
News of Bales' charges come after media outlets across the nation have uncovered his past, which included run-ins with the law. KOMO TV reports that he was involved in at least two assaults, including a 2008 incident at a Tacoma bowling alley in which he allegedly "thrust a woman's hand to his crotch and fought with her boyfriend":
A Pierce County Sheriff's Department incident report obtained by The Associated Press quoted a woman claiming Robert Bales told her she was beautiful, then "pulled her hand to his crotch" outside a Tacoma, Wash., bowling alley. The deputy described Bales as "extremely intoxicated."
The report says Bales began punching and kicking the woman's boyfriend. When the boyfriend raised one leg to stop the kicking, Bales grabbed the leg and pushed him to the pavement, according to the incident report.
Each person involved in the incident was drunk, to the point of mumbling and slurring their speech, according to the deputy's account.
Bales' attorney claims his client after multiple deployments and shouldn't have been in Afghanistan in the first place.