A former Army staff sergeant from Joint Base Lewis-McChord who killed 16 Afghan civilians, including nine children, is among eight former service members convicted of war crimes who have filed petitions seeking pardons or clemency from President Donald Trump.
Robert Bales, 45, admitted to the 2012 massacre in Kandahar Province in a 2013 general court-martial in order to avoid the death penalty. He is currently serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole in the maximum-security wing of the Midwest Joint Regional Correctional Facility in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
Bales spent his entire Army career with Joint Base Lewis-McChord's 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, and lived in Lake Tapps with his wife and two children.
Bales' attorney, John Maher, told The News Tribune his legal team wanted to take advantage of the fact that, traditionally, past presidents have given pardons in the last weeks of their administration. However, he said after the events of this week, a pardon for Bales is unlikely.
"Factoring out the events of Wednesday, I think the likelihood of a pardon is in the single-digit percentages," Maher said, referencing the storming of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 by a violent mob of pro-Trump loyalists. "I do think this president has a soft spot for military and law enforcement, so we'll see."
In the Dec. 2 filing, Maher asked the president to "disapprove the findings and the sentence in this court-martial, or grant a full and unconditional pardon, or commute the present sentence to 20 years confinement."
Maher said he filed the petition because the current defense team, which picked up Bales' case on appeal, does not believe that Bales was "in his right mind" when he entered a guilty plea. According to Maher, Bales had been taking the antimalarial drug mefloquine, which can have adverse psychiatric effects, including a tendency toward violence, in some patients.
Maher first raised the issue of Bales having allegedly been given mefloquine by the Army in a 2017 appeal, four years after he was sentenced at JBLM. Maher said Bales took mefloquine during a 2003-2004 tour in Iraq and possibly was taking it in Afghanistan in 2012.
There continues to be little evidence of Bales having taken the drug, according to retired Lt. Col. Jay Morse, who prosecuted Bales seven years ago.
In an op-ed for Military.com, Morse said the only evidence to support the claim is a statement from a fellow soldier "who thinks it likely that Bales was in the same unit formation he was in when he himself received mefloquine."
"The truth is this: Bales and his attorneys had the opportunity to present evidence three times," Morse wrote. "On each occasion, Bales' attorneys presented zero supporting evidence that he was ever given mefloquine, zero evidence that he was provided an unfair trial, zero evidence that we should question his mental state at the time of his murders."
Maher also said the Army failed to disclose information about key witnesses during the sentencing. He claims that the prosecution falsely portrayed several witnesses as farmers, rather than known associates to IED events or the Taliban.
When this claim was brought up during a 2017 appeal, Morse told The News Tribune that he was aware that one witness was briefly held at a facility in Parwan, Afghanistan but he "takes a pretty significant exception that he was tied into terrorist activities."
In op-ed for Military.com on Jan. 5, retired Lt. Col. David Gurfein, defended Bales' request for a pardon, calling him a "warrior." Gurfein is CEO of United American Patriots, a nonprofit that advocates for service members who believe they have been wrongly convicted of war crimes. Documents of support from UAP were included in Bales' petition for a presidential pardon,
Gurfein's op-ed included multiple falsehoods, including the claim that Bales might not have killed civilians at all, a fact which is backed up by multiple witnesses and Bales' own words in his 2013 confession.
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