Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, accused of murdering 17 Afghan civilians, has been told by attorney John Henry Browne not to participate in sanity-board proceedings.
Staff Sgt. Robert Bales has been instructed by his civilian attorney to not participate in an Army sanity-board process scheduled for this spring that would determine whether the Joint Base Lewis-McChord (JBLM) soldier is fit to undergo a court-martial on charges of murdering 17 Afghan civilians.
The attorney, John Henry Browne, said base officials denied defense requests that included allowing counsel to be present at the board proceeding, make a recording of the proceeding and to put a neuropsychologist on the board.
“We have asked that these ill-advised decisions be reconsidered, no response so far,” Browne said in a statement released Friday.
Browne said his client has a Fifth Amendment right to remain silent and not participate in the sanity-board process.
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Earlier this week, a base official confirmed a sanity board of Army doctors from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center will meet with Bales and review his files to understand more about his personal life and military experience before March 11, when he is accused of murdering the civilians in two villages in Kandahar province in southern Afghanistan.
The doctors will determine whether Bales had a severe mental disease or defect at the time of the killings. They also will decide whether he is able to appreciate the wrongfulness of his alleged conduct, to understand the court-martial proceedings and to cooperate in his defense, according to an Army official briefed on the decision.
The panel, which will offer a clinical psychiatric diagnosis of Bales, is expected to complete its work in the next 30 to 45 days.
The board produces a brief document that states whether Bales is fit for trial, and a longer document that can be obtained by the defense and later by prosecutors if mental competency is raised during the court-martial.
Maj. Chris Ophardt, a base spokesman, said the board proceeding is supposed to be a neutral, non-adversarial medical review, and lawyers are not typically present when the board convenes. He said JBLM officials involved in handling the defense requests thought Walter Reed would pick the best-qualified medical personnel to serve on the board, and that it would not be appropriate to dictate who that should be by granting the defense request to appoint a neuropsychologist.
Browne, in past interviews, has said there’s a possibility his client suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder brought on by injuries and multiple combat deployments — important issues to be explored by the defense.
Daniel Conway, a civilian military-defense attorney, said that in such a high-profile case as Bales’, it would be reasonable to request to have his attorney present during the sanity-board process.
Conway said it also would be important to have a neuropsychologist on the board to examine issues related to traumatic brain injury.
Even if Bales does not participate in the sanity board, its members still could opt to reach a determination of fitness through a review of medical records and other actions.
Hal Bernton: 206-464-2581 or firstname.lastname@example.org