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Soldier's attorney claims government 'hiding evidence'

Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, 38, is seen in this undated photo. Military officials suspect Bales shot 16 Afghan civilians and set some of them on fire. Nine of the victims killed were children.
March 30, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
The attorney for the accused soldier in the murders of 17 Afghan civilians says the government is hiding evidence in the case.

Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder. The military says he left his base in southern Afghanistan and went on a nighttime shooting rampage through two villages on March 11. Nine of the dead were children.

The disagreement over access to the evidence and help in getting interviews with witnesses in Afghanistan highlights the differences between military and civilian proceedings.

For one, military legal procedures don't require prosecutors to turn over certain information to the defense until several weeks before a preliminary hearing. And at this point, Bales' attorney, John Henry Browne, said there is no judge to complain to, as he would in a civilian trial.

"It's outrageous. What they are basically doing is hiding evidence," said Browne, adding that he now questions the strength of the military evidence since prosecutors are not sharing it.

Maj. Chris Ophardt, an Army spokesman, said in a statement that the prosecution will provide Bales' defense with evidence in accordance with court martial and military rules of evidence. Within these guidelines, Ophardt said, "the prosecution is and has been communicating with the defense."

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, after speaking to hundreds of Marines and sailors aboard the USS Peleliu off the San Diego coast, told reporters that he has made it clear that Bales should get "whatever information he would be entitled to under the military code of justice."

The defense team said in a statement that its members attempted to interview injured civilians being treated at a hospital in Kandahar, but were denied access and told to coordinate with prosecutors.

The prosecution team interviewed the civilians, but the defense team said they were unable to after the people were released and no contact information was provided for them. The defense team said prosecutors are withholding information "while potential witnesses scatter."

Browne's team also said they have been denied access to the civilians' medical records, as well as video allegedly taken from a surveillance blimp showing Bales on the night of the killings.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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