Browne’s comments amounted to the most detailed public portrayal so far of Bales’s state of mind in the months leading up to an incident in which the soldier stands accused of committing one of the worst U.S. atrocities in the decade-long war in Afghanistan.
Military officials and witnesses have alleged that Bales left his base in the pre-dawn hours of March 11 and methodically killed Afghan villagers — most of them women and children. He allegedly attempted to burn the bodies before returning to the base.
Browne, in an interview, did not acknowledge any wrongdoing by Bales, but the lawyer said his client told him that, on the night of the shootings, he returned to his base in southern Afghanistan with only a foggy memory of what had just happened. Bales, Browne said, remembered the smell of gunfire and of human bodies but not much more.
The lawyer stressed that Bales did not confess, as military officials have said, and seemed surprised when his weapon was taken away.
Bales, 38, is being held at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., pending a full military investigation. He faces the possibility of a death penalty on charges of premeditated murder.
Military officials have not offered any possible motive for Bales’s alleged actions, and the formal charges against him shed no light on the issue.
Unnamed military officials have said that Bales “snapped” as a result of marital and financial stress and that those factors were compounded by his consumption of alcohol that night, according to news reports. Bales had recently been passed over for a promotion, and he and his wife were under financial strain. This month, they put their Tacoma, Wash., area home up for sale for $50,000 less than the purchase price.
In recent years, Bales had several brushes with the law after incidents in which he was alleged to have been drinking.
Browne disputed any suggestion that alcohol may have played a role in the massacre in Afghanistan, calling such allegations “silly.” He said Bales had “two sips” of an unknown liquor that a Special Forces soldier had smuggled onto the base in a Gatorade bottle.
Browne, who met Bales face to face for the first time last week, said his client did, however, describe suffering symptoms strongly associated with post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of his combat experiences.
“There was a time when everyone in the room was crying when he described what he saw,” Browne said of the meeting that he, partner Emma Scanlan and a military defense lawyer had with Bales. Browne said the “horror of war” become a routine backdrop for Bales, who also reported “seeing bodies all over the place” and “putting body parts in bags” in Iraq.