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updated 3/29/2012 9:15:36 AM ET 2012-03-29T13:15:36

The U.S. soldier accused of killing 17 Afghan civilians suffered a traumatic incident during his second tour in Iraq that triggered "tremendous depression," his lawyer said Wednesday.

Lawyer John Henry Browne said he could not discuss the details of the matter because it remains classified. But he expects the issue to become a focal point in the case against Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales.

"It caused him tremendous depression and anxiety," Browne said.

The lawyer previously said Bales experienced other major dangers in his deployments, including a serious foot injury and head trauma. In addition, a fellow soldier's leg had been blown off days before the Afghanistan massacre, he said.

Bales was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder and other crimes. He is being held at a U.S. military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

A defense team is now in Afghanistan to collect evidence and interview other U.S. soldiers who knew Bales.

"Everyone they've spoken to in the military has nothing but amazingly positive things to say about him," said Browne, who is not part of the team in Afghanistan.

Due to security concerns, Browne doesn't think the team will visit the villages where the killings occurred. The investigators are likely to stay in Afghanistan a few more weeks.

Bales' colleagues: Alleged rampage 'out of character'

Browne questioned the U.S. government's case against Bales, noting there is no preserved crime scene to assess.

"It's going to be a difficult case for the prosecution to prove," Browne said. "There's no 'CSI' information. There's no DNA that I know of. There's no ballistics that I know of."

Bales has indicated that he had no recollection of prescription drugs he may have been taking before the shooting — something the attorney took as an indicator of larger memory problems.

The lawyer also said his client has a sketchy memory of the night of the shootings. In a separate interview with The Washington Post, Browne said Wednesday that Bales remembered the smell of gunfire and of human bodies but not much more.

Browne added his client reported suffering from nightmares, flashbacks of war scenes and persistent headaches after his multiple combat tours. Bales told his legal team that he has long woken up with night sweats and often replays memories of a grisly scene in Iraq that he and his infantry company witnessed several years ago, Browne said.

The lawyer stressed that Bales did not confess and seemed surprised when his weapon was taken away, the newspaper reported.

U.S. military officials said Bales was drinking on a southern Afghanistan base on March 11 before creeping away to two villages at night, shooting his victims and setting many of them on fire. Nine were children.

Bales has had incidents involving alcohol and violence in the past.

In 2002, he was arrested for a drunken assault of a security guard at a Tacoma casino. That charge was dismissed after Bales completed 20 hours of anger management training.

In 2008, a couple accused an intoxicated Bales of grabbing a woman's hand and thrusting it toward his crotch before kicking and punching the woman's boyfriend, according to a police report. Prosecutors declined to pursue that case.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Sgt. Bales’ wife: Accusations ‘devastating’

  1. Closed captioning of: Sgt. Bales’ wife: Accusations ‘devastating’

    >> bales' wife carrie is speaking out for the very first time. we sat down with her exclusively over the weekend and i asked her about the situation her husband is in.

    >> i was actually at the grocery store that morning, and a phone call from my parents, and they said well it looks like a u.s. soldier, some afghan civilians were killed by a soldier.

    >> and when you got home, did you hear the story expanded upon first before you heard bob's name mentioned?

    >> i saw 38-year-old staff sergeant, and i don't think there are very many of those, and i probably prayed and prayed that my husband wasn't involved. and then, i received a phone call from the army saying that they would like to come out and talk to me. and i was relieved, because when you get a phone call , you know that your soldier is not deceased.

    >> can you remember what they said?

    >> they held my hand and they just said that perhaps, you know, they thought that he had left the base, and gone out and perhaps killed the afghan civilians, and that was really the only sentence, and i just started crying.

    >> tell me what you believed.

    >> i just -- it seemed to me like, i -- i just don't think he was involved.

    >> you think this is all mistaken identity? do you think this is -- is he being made a fall guy for someone else?

    >> i don't know.

    >> 17 people were killed.

    >> right. i don't know enough information. i -- this is not him. it's not him.

    >> have you -- how do you get your head around that kind of news?

    >> it's devastating to hear, and it's -- it hurts my heart. you know. very, very saddened

    >> this is the guy you described as your best friend .

    >> right.

    >> and he's being charged with first degree murder. in other words, premeditated. that he planned this.

    >> it's very unbelievable. it just -- all i can think of is what happened. what led up to it? i don't -- we don't have all the -- i feel like i don't have all the information.

    >> i ask what kind of dad he was. you said he was so involved with his children. he loves children.

    >> he loves children. he's like a big kid himself.

    >> he is accused of killing nine children.

    >> right.

    >> innocent children.

    >> i have no idea what happened. but he would not -- he loves children. and he would not do that. it's heartbreaking. i can't imagine losing my children. so my heart definitely goes out to them for losing all of their children.

    >> is it possible in your mind that this is just the stress of war?

    >> that's what i thought of. yeah. it seems like this mission was different than the iraq tours. so, more intense.

    >> how did you get word that he would be deployed a fourth time?

    >> it was a big shock. because we weren't on the schedule to be deployed again, to be honest with you. he didn't want to miss out on any more of his kids' life. when he had joined he had wanted to go to afghanistan . going to afghanistan didn't worry him. it was more about being just away from the family, more time.

    >> how did you two deal with it?

    >> i was -- i was upset, you know. because i was hoping, i was planning my next phases with my family. and being able to share with him.

    >> prior to being deployed to afghanistan , his fourth deployment overall, he would have been screened at the base here. right?

    >> right.

    >> he would have gone through a physical screening and mental screening.

    >> right.

    >> are you completely confident that he was absolutely okay to be deployed that fourth time?

    >> yes. yep.

    >> there were no issues?

    >> no.

    >> there have been some reports, kari, that during his deployment in iraq , there were two injuries. all right, he suffered what was called a brain injury . a traumatic brain injury . what can you tell me about that.

    >> the only time i ever heard about any of those things was after he got back. he kept a lot of it from me.

    >> he suffered a traumatic brain injury , you're his wife by that point, he's communicating with you on a regular basis, and you never heard about it?

    >> no. nope, not until he came back and said that he, you know, had been blown up. he shielded me from a lot of what he went through. he's a very tough guy.

    >> do you believe that your husband ever showed signs of ptsd prior to this deployment or during this deployment?

    >> i don't know a lot about the symptoms of ptsd, so i wouldn't know -- he doesn't have nightmares, you know, things like that. no dreams.

    >> trouble concentrating. erratic behavior shifts, anything like that?

    >> no.

    >> is there a question we should be asking ourselves about the stresses and strains that we put our military personnel under through this multiple deployments. what do you think about that?

    >> i think what's missing is the human aspects. they are first and foremost human. they are trained to be warriors to protect our freedoms. and people don't see the human side.

    >> your husband was trained to be a warrior.

    >> proudly. and defend his country.

    >> he may have seen some things during that time as a warrior that adversely affected him.

    >> i would say that a lot of people that have been deployed to iraq and afghanistan have seen a lot of things that affected them. it can't not affect you.

    >> you've spoken to him twice on the phone. did you say sweetheart, did you do this?

    >> no. no.

    >> i mean, as a spouse wouldn't you want to ask that question, quickly, honey, why are they saying these things about you?

    >> not on the monitored phone call . so we couldn't discuss those details. he was -- seemed a bit confused. as to where he was and why he was there.

    >> will there come a time when you get to see bob where you will look him straight in the eye and ask him?

    >> probably.

    >> probably.

    >> probably.

    >> not definitely --

    >> i don't think i'll have to ask him is what i mean. i think he'll tell me what happened. from his point of view.

    >> he is -- it seems, headed for trial. i mean, if this all progresses the way it seems to be progressing. that's going to be a very costly situation.

    >> it is. and so, we actually have set up a fund, a defense fund on bob's behalf.

    >> do you feel you're going to have any trouble convincing people to contribute to a defense fund, given the horrific nature of the crimes he's accused of?

    >> you know, i think that all soldiers, all people deserve the best defense that they can get. and i believe he deserves the best defense . to know what happened.

    >> the u.s. military believes its evidence is as strong as kari's faith in her husband. i think some people watching , kari, are going to look and say that you're in denial. when you read some of the reports coming out that there's surveillance video that he walked back to the base and turned himself in, how do you square that and still say i don't think he was involved?

    >> i used to believe that everything i read was true, or you know, most things were true, and now, as i'm reading a little bit of these, some things are true, and some things aren't true. so i'm waiting to hear what actually is true.

    >> so if it turns out that he is on surveillance video, or that somebody in a position of power says, yes, he did turn himself in, and hand over his weapon after this, will that change your mind? or will nothing change your mind?

    >> i don't think anything will really change my mind in believing that he did not do this. this is not what it appears to be.

    >> as we mentioned, mrs. bales has set up a defense fund for her husband. to learn more about that you can visit our website at today.com. it's 13 minutes after

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