JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. — The U.S. soldier who massacred 16 Afghan civilians during pre-dawn raids last year apologized for the first time Thursday for his "act of cowardice," but could not explain the atrocities to a military jury considering whether he should one day have a shot at freedom.
Staff Sgt. Robert Bales said he would bring back the victims of his March 11, 2012, attack "in a heartbeat," if possible.
"I'm truly, truly sorry to those people whose families got taken away," he said in a mostly steady voice. "I can't comprehend their loss. I think about it every time I look at my kids."
Bales, a 40-year-old father of two from Lake Tapps, Wash., was serving his fourth combat deployment when he left his outpost at Camp Belambay, in Kandahar Province, in the middle of the night to attack the villages.
He pleaded guilty in June, and the six-member jury is deciding whether his life sentence should include the chance of parole.
His attorneys previously made much of Bales' repeated deployments and suggested that post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury may have played a role in the killings. But they offered no testimony from medical experts on that point.
Instead, they rested their defense after Bales finished speaking Thursday. Closing arguments were scheduled this morning.