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Afghanistan war atrocity hearing starts

SEATTLE — The US soldier accused of carrying out one of the worst atrocities of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is due to appear in a military courtroom Monday, where prosecutors will for the first time lay out their case that he slaughtered 16 people, including children, during a predawn raid on two villages in the Taliban’s heartland.

Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, a married father of two from Lake Tapps, Wash., is accused of slipping away from a remote outpost in southern Afghanistan early on March 11 with an M-4 rifle outfitted with a grenade launcher to attack the villages of Balandi and Alkozai, in the dangerous Panjwai district of Kandahar Province.

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The massacre left 16 dead — nine of them children, and 11 of them members of the same family. Six others were wounded, and some of the bodies set afire.

Bales faces 16 counts of premeditated murder, plus other charges.

Monday marks the start of a preliminary hearing, called an Article 32 hearing, before an investigative officer charged with recommending whether Bales’s case should proceed to a court-martial.

‘‘This hearing is important for all of us in terms of learning what the government can actually prove,’’ said Bales’s attorney, John Henry Browne.

Bales, 39, is an Ohio native who joined the Army in late 2001 — after the 9/11 attacks — as his career as a stockbroker imploded .

He was serving his fourth combat tour after three stints in Iraq, and his arrest prompted a national discussion about the stresses posed by multiple deployments. Another of his civilian attorneys, Emma Scanlan, declined to say to what extent the lawyers hope to elicit testimony that could be used to support a mental-health defense.

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