The possible use of a controversial malaria drug will be raised at an appeals hearing Tuesday for Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, convicted of murdering 16 Afghan men, women and children.
The defense team for Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, in a hearing scheduled for Tuesday, plans to raise possible use of a controversial malaria drug as justification for a review of the life-without-parole sentence he received for the murder of 16 Afghans.
The U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals in Northern Virginia comes four years after Bales was sentenced at Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) in Western Washington for one of the most notorious U.S. war crimes of recent decades. Early on March 12, 2012, he twice left a small base in southern Afghanistan to kill men, women and children in two Kandahar province villages.
Defense attorneys are expected to argue that while on a 2003-2004 tour in Iraq, and possibly in Afghanistan in 2012, Bales took the antimalarial drug mefloquine, according to John Henry Browne, a Seattle attorney who has assisted in the soldier’s defense.
In July 2013, the FDA issued its strictest warning about mefloquine, noting the potential for long-term neurological damage and serious psychiatric side effects. The defense team did not raise Bales’ possible use of the drug during sentencing proceedings the next month.
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Defense attorneys now hope the drug issue can persuade a three-judge panel to lessen his sentence. But Bales has never recalled just what malaria medications he took, according to Browne.
A retired Army officer who headed up the prosecution team said he never saw any documentation in Bales’ medical records that he took mefloquine in Iraq or Afghanistan.
“There is zero evidence that Bales was on mefloquine,” said retired Lt. Col. Jay Morse, who is now in private practice but plans to attend Tuesday’s hearing as an observer.
Appeals are automatic for Army criminal convictions. The three-judge panel has wide-ranging powers to adjust a sentence, or even throw one out.
Bales’ hearing will be held at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. He is serving his sentence at Fort Leavenworth, in Kansas.
Defense attorneys have raised another issue in the appeal that involves Afghan witnesses, who flew to the United States to testify against Bales at JBLM. Bales’ lawyers allege that some of those witnesses’ ties to bomb-making were not disclosed, according to…