US Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, who is accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians in the Panjwai district of southern Kandahar province, will make his first court appearance on Monday in the US.

It has been a lengthy legal process since the March 11 massacre this year. The November 5 to Nov 16 court hearing will determine whether there is enough evidence to prosecute Bales in a court martial.

At least 10 witnesses from Panjwai and relatives of the victims are expected to testify via a video link, AFP reported Bales’ lawyer as saying.

Bales, 39, is charged with leaving his base in the Panjwai district in the middle of the night and killing the 16 civilians including nine children from two nearby villages. He allegedly set some of the bodies alight.

He faces 16 counts of premeditated murder and six counts of attempted murder, as well as charges of assault and wrongfully possessing and using steroids and alcohol while deployed.

In Afghanistan, local elders and residents called for Bales to be sentenced to death as the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) stressed the need for justice.

“We strongly demand and we strongly ask the United States that the justice should be applied and the trial should be based on the principles of fair trial and provide opportunities and time to the victims’ families and members to be represented and to be heard in the court of the United States there,” said AIHRC Executive Director Musa Mahmuddi to Reuters.

Panjwai tribal elder Haji Agha Lali also said they want Bales to be prosecuted in Afghanistan.

“We already asked for a trial for the soldier who had committed this crime. He should have been trialed in Afghanistan and should have been punished with a death penalty,” Lali, also a member of Kandahar’s provincial council, told Reuters.

Kandarhar residents joined the elders, asking for Bales to be hanged in Panjwai.

“We urge the international community to give us the soldier who had committed this cruelty against our innocent people. We want to hang him in Panjwai district where he had done the mass killing. If we hanged him in public it can be a condolence for the victim families,” said Abdul Hadi, a resident of Kandahar city, according to Reuters.

Bales’ wife Kari, on the eve of the hearing, told US news outlet ABC News that her husband was innocent and it must have been a mistake.

“My husband did not do this. Did not do this,” Kari Bales told ABC News. “I truly believe from the bottom of my heart that my husband is not involved.”

“It must have been a mistake, is how I initially took it… It was just incomprehensible to me. I know my husband. I know him very well, and especially the talk about the women and the children,” she said.

Bales was an experienced soldier who was deployed to Iraq three times before he came to Afghanistan.

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