In a deal to avoid the death penalty, Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales plead guilty to executing 16 Afghan civilians, many of them women and children. NBC's Mike Taibbi reports.
A U.S. soldier pleaded guilty Wednesday to executing 16 Afghan civilians — many of them women and children — and said he couldn't explain why he did it.
"I've asked that question a million times since then, and there's not a good reason in the world for why I did the horrible things I did," Staff Sgt. Robert Bales told a military judge.
Bales, who struck a deal with prosecutors to avoid the death penalty, admitted he aimed to kill during two rogue raids on family compounds in Kandahar province in March 2012.
"I formed the intent as I raised my weapon," he said.
He recounted grappling with an older woman as he entered one compound.
"Upon completion of that struggle, I did form the intent to kill anyone in that compound," he said.
Asked whether the woman was armed in way way, Bales replied, "No, sir, she was not.'
Bales spoke in a clear, emotionless voice as he went through each of the 16 killings, describing how he left his base, went to the village and systematically gunned down defenseless civilians with an M4 military assault rifle and 9mm handgun.
He ended each chilling confession with the statement, "This act was without legal justification."
He said he did not remember setting a compound on fire, but did not dispute it.
"There was a kerosene lantern in the room, and based on the evidence ... that lantern was used to set those people on fire," he said.
"I remember there being a lantern in the room, remember there being a fire, remember there were matches in my pocket," he added.
Anja Niedringhaus / AP, file
Mohammed Wazir, seen here with his only surviving son, Habib Shahin, 3, lost 11 family members in the attacks by Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, who pleaded guilty on Wednesday.
"But to say I remember throwing it on those people, I don't recall that. But I have seen pictures and it's the only thing that makes sense, sir."
The judge, Col. Jefferey Nance, asked if Bales believed he was "authorized or justified or acting in self defense" when he shot and burned the civilians.
"No, sir," he replied.
"Do you believe you conduct was wrong?" Nance asked.
"Yes, sir," Bales replied.
His recounting of the atrocities in a military courtroom in Washington state came after he pleaded guilty to premeditated murder, attempted murder and aggravated assault. He pleaded not guilty to a charge that involved a stolen laptop.
In August, a jury will determine if his life sentence will include the possibility of parole. Bales requested that one-third of the panel be comprised of enlisted members, not just officers.
Bales' lawyers have said the married father of two suffered from PTSD and brain injury after four combat deployments and was under the influence of drugs and alcohol the night of the raids on family compounds in Kandahar province.
Prosecutors have said the massacre was preplanned and that Bales was angry about a bomb blast near his outpost that wounded a fellow soldier.
This story was originally published on Wed Jun 5, 2013 8:41 PM EDT