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Life term for Afghan attack soldier

A military jury has sentenced a US soldier who massacred 16 Afghan civilians last year to life in prison without a chance of parole.

The decision came in the case against Staff Sergeant Robert Bales who pleaded guilty in June in a deal to avoid the death penalty for one of the worst atrocities of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Bales took the witness stand on Thursday and apologised for the pre-dawn attack in March 2012, describing it as an act of cowardice.

Bales, a father of two from Lake Tapps, Washington, was serving his fourth combat deployment when he left his outpost at Camp Belambay, in Kandahar province, in the middle of the night to attack two villages.

The jury announced the sentence hours after closing arguments ended, with prosecutors saying Bales's own "stomach-churning" words proved he knew what he was doing when he carried out the attack

Arguing Bales, 40, should not get parole, prosecutor Jay Morse showed jurors photos of a young girl who was killed as she screamed and cried. He showed surveillance video of Bales returning to his base with "the methodical, confident gait of a man whose accomplished his mission".

Defence attorney Emma Scanlan said no one can minimise the atrocities Bales committed but she urged jurors to consider his earlier military service and leave him with a "sliver of light" - a sentence of life with the possibility of parole after 20 years.

He was serving his fourth combat deployment last year when he left his outpost in Kandahar province in the middle of the night to attack the villages, shooting his victims and setting some of their bodies on fire with a kerosene lantern.

His attorneys have suggested that post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury may have played a role in the killings. But they offered no testimony from psychiatrists or other doctors.

If the defence could have convinced two of six jurors that Bales deserved leniency because he was a good soldier who simply "snapped," he would have been eligible for parole in 20 years.

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