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Soldier accused of massacre of Afghan villagers gets life without parole

Peter Millett / Reuters

A courtroom sketch shows Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales on the stand on Wednesday. Bales pleaded guilty to a massacre of 16 Afghan villagers to avoid the death penalty.

Sgt. Robert Bales, the U.S. soldier who carried out a massacre of Afghan villlagers last year, has been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

A military jury of six handed down the sentence on Friday to Bales, who pleaded guilty in June to avoid the death penalty in last March's attack. Sixteen Afghan civilians were gunned down in their family compounds. Most of the victims were women and children.

Bales took the witness stand on Thursday and apologized for the massacre, which was one of the worst atrocities of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. The killings represent the worst case of civilian deaths blamed on a U.S. soldier since the Vietnam War.

"I'm truly, truly sorry to those people whose families got taken away," Bales, 40, a father of two, said. "I can't comprehend their loss. I think about it every time I look at my kids."

Bales, from Lake Tapps, Wash., left his outpost at Camp Belambay in Kandahar province in the middle of the night in March 2012 to attack two villages.

Army prosecutors say Bales acted alone and planned the killings, which he carried out with a rifle, a pistol and a grenade launcher, according to Reuters. He left his outpost twice during the night, returning in the middle of the attack to tell a fellow soldier, "I just shot up some people."

Nine Afghans testified over two days about their lives since the brutal rampage, with at least one cursing at Bales, The Associated Press reported.

AP Photo / Elaine Thompson

Sadiquallah, left, who was shot in the 2012 attack by Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, holds the shoulders of a younger boy named Khan as other Afghan villagers, some who testified earlier in the week, speak through an interpreter with reporters following a sentencing hearing for Bales at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. on Friday, Aug. 23, 2013.

Haji Mohammad Wazir said he lost 11 relatives, including his mother, wife, and six out of his seven children.

"If someone loses one child, you can imagine how devastated their life would be," Wazir said, according to the AP. "If anybody speaks to me about the incident ... I feel the same, like it's happening right now."

Bales served four combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. His attorneys suggested post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury may have played a role in the killings, but offered no testimony from psychiatrists or doctors.

During the trial, prosecutors highlighted criminal activity from Bales' past, including a fraud investigation, a drunken-driving arrest in 2005 and a driving under the influence crash in 2008, and lies on his re-enlistment documents about his criminal history.

"He wiped out generations and he ruined lives forever," said prosecutor Lt. Col. Jay Morse. "He should be known by one official title from this day until the day he dies: Inmate.''

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

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