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The U.S. Army has decided to seek the death penalty against Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, the American soldier who allegedly murdered nine children and seven adults in March 2012 in the Kandahar province of Afghanistan. If the Army's prosecution is successful, Bales would be the first American servicemember to be executed by the military in more than 50 years.

The decision confirms reports in early November that, based upon evidence compiled since the massacre in March, the Army would seek capital punishment for Bales, and suggests that military prosecutors found other explanations — documented marital strife, untreated post-tramautic stress disorder, Bales's history of intoxication — to be unpersuasive.

If the Army's prosecution succeeds, Bales would be the first soldier to be executed under military law since 1961, when soldier John A. Bennett was hanged for the rape and attempted murder of an 11-year-old girl. In the fifty years since, the Army has tried to seek the death penalty in a number of cases (most recently, against Nidal Malik Hasan, the accuser shooter in the 2009 shooting at Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas) and came very close to invoking it in 2008, when President George W. Bush certified the execution of an Army private who had been on death row since 1988.

The president's approval, as New York Times points out, could be a contentious factor in the proceedings to come: the Uniform Code of Military Justice dictates that, if the prosecution against Bales prevails, President Obama would have to personally sign off on his execution for it to occur.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.

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