As expected, the American soldier charged with killing 16 Afghan civilians during a nighttime massacre on two villages last year has pleaded guilty to avoid the death penalty. Staff Sgt. Robert Bales entered the plea today in a military courtroom near Seattle. Bales, 39, said he left the remote base where he was posted in southern Afghanistan and went to the nearby villages of mud-walled compounds. Once inside, Bales said he "formed the intent" of killing the victims, then shot each one. "This act was without legal justification, sir," Bales told the judge.
At one point, the judge, Col. Jeffery Nance asked Bales why he did it. Bales responded: "Sir, as far as why—I've asked that question a million times since then. There's not a good reason in this world for why I did the horrible things I did." Most of the victims were women and children, and some of the bodies were burned. Bales said he recalls seeing a kerosene lantern that night, along with a fire, but he said he didn't remember setting the bodies on fire.