SEATTLE The lawyer representing Robert Bales, the U.S. Army staff sergeant accused of killing 17 Afghan villagers, is objecting to a routine background check required by the military.
Seattle-based attorney John Henry Browne, a self-described ex-hippie who has been married seven times and used to play bass in a rock band, said he has no secrets to hide but is opposed to the check on principle.
"I don't think a defense lawyer should be 'vetted' by the government," Browne wrote in an email to Reuters on Thursday. "It is intrusive and has a chilling effect on the right to counsel."
Browne will likely need security clearance to see government material relating to the events of March 11, when Army prosecutors say Bales left his remote post in Afghanistan's Kandahar province and gunned down 17 Afghan civilians, inflaming U.S.-Afghan relations.
Lt. Col. Gary Dangerfield, an Army spokesman at Joint Base Lewis McChord, the U.S. home for Bales' unit, said the background check was "standard procedure" for obtaining security clearance to access classified information.
Browne, an outspoken attorney with a talent for grabbing headlines, has already made waves on the case, accusing prosecutors of blocking his access to witnesses and demanding the removal of his Army co-counsel.
He made his name defending serial killer Ted Bundy and a number of high-profile Seattle-area homicide suspects. Most recently he defended "Barefoot Bandit" Colton Harris-Moore.
Bales is in military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, awaiting mental evaluation to see if he is fit to stand trial for the massacre, in which nine of the victims were children.
(Editing by David Brunnstrom)