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Soldier apologizes for Afghan massacre

Staff Sergeant Robert Bales testified on Thursday before a military jury that is considering his sentence.

Staff Sergeant Robert Bales testified on Thursday before a military jury that is considering his sentence.

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. — The US soldier who massacred 16 Afghan civilians during predawn raids last year apologized for the first time for his ‘‘act of cowardice,’’ but could not explain the atrocities to a military jury considering whether he should one day be eligible for parole.

Staff Sergeant Robert Bales said he would bring back the victims of his March 11, 2012, attack ‘‘in a heartbeat,’’ if possible.

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‘‘I’m truly, truly sorry to those people whose families got taken away,’’ he said in a mostly steady voice. ‘‘I can’t comprehend their loss. I think about it every time I look at my kids.’’

Bales did not recount specifics of the horrors, but described the killings as an ‘‘act of cowardice, behind a mask of fear . . . and bravado,’’ and said he hoped his words would be translated for the villagers, none of whom were in the courtroom.

The father of two from Lake Tapps, Wash., was serving his fourth combat deployment when he left his outpost at Camp Belambay, in Kandahar Province, in the middle of the night to attack the villages.

He pleaded guilty in June, and the six-member jury is deciding whether his life sentence should include the chance of parole.

His attorneys previously made much of Bales’s repeated deployments and suggested that post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury may have played a role in the killings.

But the lawyers offered no testimony from medical specialists on that point, saying they saw little point in making the case a battle of the experts.

Instead, they rested their defense after Bales finished speaking Thursday. Closing arguments were scheduled for Friday morning.

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