(WASHINGTON) — The U.S military will try Staff Sgt. Robert Bales in the U.S. despite Afghan demands that his trial for the alleged murder of 16 civilians — most of them children — be held in Afghanistan, a U.S. official said, according to a transcript released Monday.
Bales, 38, met with his lawyer for the first time Monday in a military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kan. He was flown out of Afghanistan to Kuwait last week, and then to Kansas over this past weekend.
U.S. military officials had previously said the location of the trial had not been determined and did not rule out having the trial in Afghanistan.
But in a briefing with Afghan journalists Sunday, a U.S. official said that Bales “will be tried in the United States. We have not determined, we are doing some coordination to find out what the final venue will be, but the proceedings will take place somewhere in the United States.”
The transcript of the briefing was released Monday and the official spoke on the condition that he be identified only as a U.S. forces Afghanistan legal expert.
The source was asked how he could be tried in the U.S. when crucial witnesses are in the Afghan villages where the victims died during the March 11 massacre.
“The presence of the families and the victims is certainly going to be a consideration,” the source said. “So that is part of the normal process in the United States and under our system.”
Returning to the issue of witnesses later in the discussion, he said, “If he is brought to trial it is possible that Afghan witnesses and victims would be brought over.”
He also said that no representative of the Afghan government will be part of the prosecution team. The Afghan government is conducting its own investigation of the killings and so far has indicated it believes more than one U.S. soldier was involved.
Bales has yet to be charged, although charges could be filed as early as Monday.
According to military law expert Eugene Fidell, Bales will likely face either life in prison with possibility of parole or the death penalty, a punishment the military hasn’t carried out since 1961.
In capital cases deposition testimony is not allowed, Fidell told ABC News. This means if there are Afghan witnesses to the massacre, they must travel to the U.S. to testify in person. And since they cannot be forced to testify, some witnesses may decide not to make the trip because they do not trust the U.S. military.
Bales, a father of two, is represented by John Henry Browne a Seattle attorney whose clients have included serial killer Ted Bundy and Colton Harris-Moore, the “Barefoot Bandit.” Browne, who said he has taken on only three or four military cases, will have a team that includes at least one military lawyer.
Bales is being held in an isolated cell at Fort Leavenworth’s military prison in Kansas.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
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