U.S. Military Considers Death Penalty for First Time in 51 Years

Friday, December 21, 2012
Bales massacre victim (photo: Jangir, Agence France-Presse)

U.S. Army Sergeant Robert Bales could become the first soldier in more than half a century to be executed by the U.S. military. Bales is accused of murdering 16 Afghan villagers, including nine children, in two separates rampages last March. By Afghan standards, there was a seventeenth victim…an unborn fetus.


Eleven of the people Bales killed were relatives of farmer Muhammad Wazir: his mother, Shah Tarina; his wife, Bibi Zohra; two sons, 14-year-old Ismatullah and 8-year-old Faizullah; four daughters, 12-year-old Masooma, 8-year-old Farida, 3-year-old Nabiya and 2-year-old Palwasha: his brother, Akhtar Mohammed; his brother’s wife, Bibi Nazia; and a 15-year-old nephew, Essa Mohammed.


“Like anyone,” Wazir later told the press, “I wanted my children to be doctors, engineers—important people. All my dreams are buried under a pile of dust now.”


Legal experts say it could be difficult for the military to convince the judges at Bales’ trial to agree unanimously on a capital punishment verdict.


His defense lawyer, John Henry Browne, said it would be unfair to punish his client so, due to the fact that Bales was serving his fourth deployment at the time he went on his killing spree.


“The Army is not taking responsibility for Sgt. Bales and other soldiers that the Army knowingly sends into combat situations with diagnosed PTSD, concussive head injuries and other injuries,” Browne told the Associated Press. “The Army is trying to take the focus off the failure of its decisions, and the failure of the war itself, and making Sgt. Bales out to be a rogue soldier.”


The last soldier to be executed was Army Private John Bennett in 1961. Bennett was not only the last to be executed, but also the only soldier to be executed for rape. Bennett, who was black, was hanged at Fort Leavenworth for raping a white girl in Austria.

-Noel Brinkerhoff, David Wallechinsky


To Learn More:

US Army Seeks Death Sentence in Afghan Rampage (by Gene Johnson, Associated Press)

The Forgotten Victims of the Bales Massacre (by David Wallechinsky and Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Pvt. John Bennett Is the Only U.S. Soldier Executed for Rape in Peacetime. (by Richard Serrano, Los Angeles Times)


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