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New York Times

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - A military prosecutor on Tuesday said the evidence against Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, presented over the last week here in a pretrial inquiry into the killings of 16 Afghan civilians, was so damning that the case should go forward as a capital crime.

"Terrible, terrible things happened - that is clear," said the prosecutor, Maj. Rob Stelle. "The second thing that is clear," he added, "is that Sgt. Bales did it."

But a lawyer for Bales, Emma Scanlan, making the defense team's final argument, said the lingering questions about the crime, and especially the defendant's mental and physical state, were far too great to proceed with anything but caution.

"Alcohol, steroids and sleeping aids," Scanlan said, citing the prosecution's own evidence about what Bales, an 11-year Army veteran, may have had in his system in the early morning hours of March 11 when two villages in Kandahar province were attacked. What would a cocktail of substances like that do to a man's mind, Scanlan asked the court, in the "kinetic and high-pressure" environment of a combat zone?

"We don't know," she said.

The Army has charged that Bales, 39, who was serving his fourth combat tour, walked away from his remote outpost in southern Afghanistan and shot and stabbed members of several families in a nighttime ambush in the villages. At least nine of the people he is accused of killing were children. In the decade of military conflict since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, it was the deadliest war crime attributed to a single American soldier, with consequences that rippled through relations between the U.S. and Afghan governments.

The hearings here, called an Article 32 investigation, beyond offering the first open-court airing of the evidence, are also intended to provide a sort of road map for where prosecutors might go from here in seeking a military trial. The investigating officer who presided over the inquiry, Col. Lee Deneke, said Tuesday that he would have a written opinion by the end of the week.