Military prosecutors have said they will seek the death penalty for Robert Bales, the US soldier accused of killing 16 Afghan villagers, most of them women and children, during a drunken predawn raid on two villages in Afghanistan.
According to Reuters, lead prosecutor Lt-Col. Jay Morse, told a preliminary hearing at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, he would present evidence proving "chilling premeditation" by Bales.
Despite having been drinking — and with charges against him of wrongful possession and use of steroids — Bales was "lucid, coherent and responsive" when he left the base on the evening of March 11, Morse told the court, according to CNN.
He said the decorated war veteran's actions constituted "sheer brutality," and that he was submitting a "capital referral" in the case, meaning Bales should be executed if convicted.
According to the prosecution, as cited by UPI, Bales was drinking Jack Daniels whiskey on a rural base 22 miles west of Kandahar, in Afghanistan's Panjwayi district, before heading on foot toward the first of two neighboring villages.
There he went from dwelling to dwelling, killing unarmed civilians, in what the Associated Press described as "one of the worst atrocities of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars."
A key witness reportedly said that when Bales returned to the base he was covered in blood and told another soldier he'd just killed several people, saying "It's bad, it's really bad."
When the soldier failed to restrain him, thinking he was joking, Bales left the base again and killed more people, prsecutors allege.
In all, he allegedly killed 16 Afghan civilians and wounded six. Nine were children and 11 were from the same family.
Prosecutors reportedly showed video from a surveillance blimp showing Bales returning to the base, putting down his weapon and surrendering.
Bales' wife has maintained her husband's innocence, telling ABC News before the hearing:
"My husband did not do this — did not do this. I truly believe, from the bottom of my heart, that my husband is not involved."
Bales' attorney John Henry Browne has hinted at the defence's intention to claim Bales suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
"Nothing really justifies killing women and children in a noncombat situation," he told CNN. "But there may be explanations if that's true."
The region where the alleged massacre took place is known as the birthplace of the Taliban.
Ahmad Zia Syamak, a spokesman for Afghan President Hamid Karzai, told CNN:
"He committed a mass killing crime, and we would like the court in the United States to implement justice and punish him according to the crime."