JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- The medic saw Staff Sgt. Robert Bales covered in blood and knew from the pattern of the staining it wasn't his own. He asked where it came from and where he'd been.
Bales shrugged, the medic, Sgt. 1st Class James Stillwell, testified yesterday. "If I tell you, you guys will have to testify against me," Stillwell quoted him as saying.
The statement was one of many attributed to Bales that suggest he knew what he was doing the night he surrendered after a two-village killing spree in southern Afghanistan, prosecutors say.
The remarks, offered by fellow soldiers testifying for the government Monday and yesterday, could pose a high hurdle for defense lawyers who have indicated that Bales' mental health will be a big part of their case. The preliminary hearing is being held to help determine whether the case goes to a court-martial.
Defense lawyers have noted that Bales was serving his fourth deployment, and had suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder as well as a concussive head injury in Iraq. One witness testified yesterday that Bales was quick to anger.
The 39-year-old father of two from Lake Tapps, Wash., faces 16 counts of premeditated murder and six counts of attempted murder in the March 11 attack on the villages of Balandi and Alkozai, which counted nine children among its victims.
One of the worst atrocities of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the attack prompted the United States to halt combat operations for days in the face of protests, and military investigators couldn't reach the crime scenes for a month.
Soldiers testified that after being taken into custody, Bales told them, "I thought I was doing the right thing." "It's bad, it's really bad," he reportedly added.
And Stillwell, the medic, said Bales told him that the soldiers at Camp Belambay would appreciate his actions once the fighting season ramped up: "You guys are going to thank me come June."