You can now read 10 articles in a month for free on BostonGlobe.com. Read as much as you want anywhere and anytime for just 99¢.

The Boston Globe

Nation

Sergeant aware of massacre, soldiers testify

Remarks could undermine defense strategy

Staff Sergeant Robert Bales faces 16 counts of premeditated murder in attacks on 2 villages.

Staff Sergeant Robert Bales faces 16 counts of premeditated murder in attacks on 2 villages.

JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. — The medic saw Staff Sergeant Robert Bales covered in blood and knew from the pattern of the staining it wasn’t his own. He asked where it came from and where he’d been.

Bales shrugged, the medic, Sergeant First Class James Stillwell, testified Tuesday.

Continue reading below

‘‘If I tell you, you guys will have to testify against me,’’ Stillwell quoted him as saying.

The statement was one of many attributed to Bales that suggest he knew what he was doing the night he surrendered after a two-village killing spree in southern Afghanistan, prosecutors say.

The remarks, offered by fellow soldiers testifying for the government Monday and Tuesday, could pose a high hurdle for defense lawyers who have indicated that Bales’ mental health will be a big part of their case. The testimony is part of a preliminary hearing being held to help determine whether the case goes to a court martial.

Defense lawyers have noted that Bales was serving his fourth deployment, and had suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder as well as a concussive head injury in Iraq. One witness testified Tuesday that he was quick to anger.

The 39-year-old father of two from Lake Tapps, Wash., faces 16 counts of premeditated murder and six counts of attempted murder in the March 11 attack on the villages of Balandi and Alkozai, which counted nine children among its victims.

Continue reading below

One of the worst atrocities of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the attack prompted the United States to halt combat operations for days in the face of protests, and military investigators couldn’t reach the crime scenes for a month.

A prosecutor’s opening statement and witness testimony Monday suggested Bales spent the evening before the massacre at his remote outpost of Camp Belambay with two other soldiers, watching a movie about revenge killings, sharing contraband whiskey from a plastic bottle, and discussing an attack that cost one of their comrades his leg.

Within hours, Bales slipped away from the post and embarked on a killing spree of his own, said the prosecutor, Lieutenant Colonel Jay Morse. He attacked one village, then returned to Belambay, where he woke up a colleague and reported what he’d done, Morse said. The colleague testified that he didn’t believe Bales and went back to sleep.

Bales headed out again, Morse said, and attacked the second village, bringing his death toll to 16 before returning once again in the predawn darkness, bloody and incredulous that his comrades ordered him to surrender his weapons.

His return to the base was captured on surveillance video, Morse said.

Soldiers testified that after being taken into custody, Bales told them, ‘‘I thought I was doing the right thing.’’

‘‘It’s bad, it’s really bad,’’ he reportedly added.

And Stillwell, the medic, said Bales told him that the soldiers at Camp Belambay would appreciate his actions once the fighting season ramped up: ‘‘You guys are going to thank me come June.’’

At another point, Bales remarked, ‘‘I guess four was too many’’ — an apparent reference to the number of family compounds in the attacked villages, Morse said Monday.

Bales was largely calm and compliant when he turned himself in following the massacre, several soldiers testified Tuesday. He followed orders and sometimes sat with his head in his hands, as though the magnitude of what he had done was sinking in, one said.

But Bales also deliberately mangled his laptop, said two soldiers assigned to guard him as he gathered his things.

On Monday, Corporal David Godwin testified that Bales asked him to bleach his blood-soaked clothes.

Two other soldiers, Privates First Class Derek Guinn and Damian Blodgett, testified Tuesday that they were on a guard shift early March 11 when they heard scattered gunfire coming from Alkozai, the first village attacked. They used thermal imaging and then shot up flares to illuminate the area, but couldn’t make out what was going on.

Blodgett said he reported it to the operations center on base, and a specialist told them to monitor it and let him know if it came toward them.

The shooting lasted for 30 to 40 minutes, Blodgett said.

You have reached the limit of 10 free articles in a month

Stay informed with unlimited access to Boston’s trusted news source.

  • High-quality journalism from the region’s largest newsroom
  • Convenient access across all of your devices
  • Today’s Headlines daily newsletter
  • Subscriber-only access to exclusive offers, events, contests, eBooks, and more
  • Less than 25¢ a week