SEATAC, Wash.-- The lawyer for the Army staff sergeant suspected of killing 16 Afghan civilians questioned Tuesday the quality of the evidence against his client and said he planned to travel to Afghanistan to gather his own.
John Henry Browne said he met with Robert Bales for 11 hours over two days at Fort Leavenworth, where his client is being held. He added that there was still a lot he didn't know about the March 11 shootings.
Browne returned to Seattle Tuesday evening. He said the two days he spent with Bales were emotionally exhausting.
When asked if he believes Bales is being rushed to judgment, to appease global political pressure, Browne said, "That's a really good question." Browne says the constant trickle of leaks into Bales' background including the details of an apparent drunken incident a few years ago at a Tacoma casino, shows the government is pushing back.
"It is ridiculous, who cares," Browne said of that Tacoma case, "you don't go out and do something really bad because you got in a bar fight a few years ago.
Browne said there were legal, social and political issues linked to the case and how it will be prosecuted. "The whole war should be on trial, I am not doing that, and I wouldn't do that," he said. Adding, "I really respect these military guys tremendously, but that is the big question."
Bales, 38, has not been charged yet. Browne expects that he will be charged this week. The killings sparked protests in Afghanistan, endangered relations between the two countries and threatened to upend American policy over the decade-old war.
Browne met with his client behind bars for the first time Monday to begin building a defense.
On Tuesday in Kansas, Browne described Bales as "a soldier's soldier" who followed orders, including deploying to Afghanistan despite not wanting to go. Bales has been reported to have had financial troubles.
"That doesn't mean anything. Sure, there are financial problems. I have financial problems. Ninety-nine percent of America has financial problem," he said. "You don't go kill women and children because you have financial problems."
Browne has said Bales has a sketchy memory of events from before and after the killings but recalls very little or nothing of the time the military believes he went on a shooting spree through two Afghan villages.
"He has some memories of before the incident and he has some memories of after the incident. In between, very little," Browne said.
Browne said there were potential mental health issues for his client, but that he didn't have expertise to make a qualified judgment. "Dragging parts of bodies around is not something that really you forget very often," he said. "He's in shock."
Browne, a Seattle attorney who defended serial killer Ted Bundy and a thief known as the "Barefoot Bandit," has said he has handled three or four military cases. The defense team includes a military defense lawyer, Maj. Thomas Hurley.
After their investigation, military attorneys could present charges to a commander, who then makes a judgment on whether there is probable cause to believe that an offense was committed and that the accused committed it.
That commander then submits the charges to a convening authority, who typically is the commander of the brigade to which the accused is assigned but could be of higher rank.