By Barbara Starr
Army criminal investigators have now completed their first visit to the outpost where Staff Sgt. Robert Bales served and the two villages where he is alleged to have killed 17 Afghan civilians, according to a US official.
The official declined to be identified or discuss what evidence had been gathered due to the sensitivity of the investigation. The Army will also not say when investigators were there or if they are going back, due to concerns over their safety in the vicinity of the villages.
It was the first visit by U.S. investigators, who had been staying away out of respect to angry villagers. CNN's Nic Paton Walsh reported last week that the American investigators had not been able to return to the crime scene.
Until now the Army has been relying on evidence collected by Afghan officials at the two villages. American investigators hoped to dig out of walls whatever bullets are left and examine the trajectories of bullets fired, CNN reported earlier this week.
The attorney for Bales has questioned how solid the evidence against his client is.
"There's no forensic evidence. There's no confessions," attorney John Henry Browne said on March 23.
There are now more than two dozen Army criminal investigation agents working on the case in the United States, Afghanistan and other locations "globally," according to Chris Grey, chief of public affairs for the Army's Criminal Investigation Command (CID). Grey said if leads indicate a need to talk to other service members who may have known Bales or who came in contact with him, and pursuing those leads requires travel to other countries, then that is being done.
All evidence gathered by the U.S. in the case is being processed at the Army Criminal Investigation Laboratory at Fort Gillem, Georgia, according to Grey. The Georgia facility is the only full-service forensic laboratory in the U.S. military. Grey would not say whether evidence collected by Afghan authorities has been turned over to U.S. officials.