JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. — The U.S. soldier who massacred 16 Afghan civilians last year in one of the worst atrocities of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars was sentenced Friday to life in prison with no chance of parole — the most severe sentence possible, but one that left surviving victims and relatives of the dead deeply unsatisfied.
Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, 40, who pleaded guilty in June in a deal to avoid the death penalty, showed no emotion as the verdict was announced at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, south of Seattle.
Bales’ mother, sitting in the front row of the court, bowed her head, rocked in her seat, and wept as the sentence was read.
As the verdict was announced, an interpreter flashed a thumbs-up sign to a row of Afghan villagers who were either wounded or lost family members in the March 11, 2012, attacks.
“I saw his mother trying to cry, but at least she can go visit him,” Hajji Mohammad Naim, who was shot in the neck, said after the sentencing. “What about us? Our family members are actually 6 feet under.”
The villagers, who traveled nearly 7,000 miles to testify against Bales, spoke with reporters and asked through a translator what it would be like for someone to break into American homes and slaughter their families.
“We wanted this murderer to be executed, but we didn’t get our wish,” said Hajji Mohammad Wazir, who lost 11 family members, including his wife, mother and six of his seven children.
Bales never offered an explanation for why he armed himself with a 9 mm pistol and an M-4 rifle and left his post on the killing mission, but he apologized on the witness stand Thursday and described the slaughter as an “act of cowardice, behind a mask of fear, bulls--- and bravado.”
The six-member jury weighing whether he should be eligible for parole after 20 years took about 90 minutes to decide the case in favor of prosecutors who described Bales as a “man of no moral compass.”