Bales hearing: Afghan teenagers describe attack on their home

Tacoma News TribuneNovember 10, 2012 

In this November 2012 courtroom sketch, U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, lower left, watches testimony from a man named Faizullah, on a video monitor at upper left, sitting next to a translator. At right is military prosecutor Lt. Col. Jay Morse.


The Afghan children awoke in the dead of night with a terrifying warning: An American soldier was in their village, and he had shot at least one man to death.

“He killed my man,” their neighbor’s wife cried as she barged into their home.

Sadiqullah, 13, hid behind a curtain. His older brother, Quadratullah, shouted “We are children! We are children!” only to see the soldier shoot his sister.

Haji Mohammed Naim, the father of the household, saw the American approach and asked “What are you doing?”

The soldier shot him at close range, “here, here and here,” Naim testified early Saturday, gesturing to wounds in his neck and upper torso.

Naim and his sons were among seven Afghan witnesses testifying from Afghanistan’s Kandahar province in an extraordinary judicial hearing weighing evidence against Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, who allegedly murdered 16 Afghan civilians and wounded six more in a nighttime rampage March 11.

Bales could face the death penalty if his case proceeds to a court-martial. He watched the Afghan testimony intently Friday night, alternating between a television screen showing the testimony from Kandahar and another on a laptop at his table. His wife, Kari, also attended the hearing.

The Afghans testified on the fifth day of the evidence hearing over a video link that piped their testimony into a Lewis-McChord courtroom from Camp Nathan Smith in Kandahar. They gave haunting accounts of violence in Naim’s home in the village of Alkozai and the aftermath of another slaughter Bales allegedly committed in the village of Najiban.

“This is my request: Justice,” said Mullah Khamal Adin, who lost 11 relatives in Najiban.

Adin was not a witness to the massacre, but he collected the corpses of his family members when villagers called him and told him that something terrible had happened in the home of his cousin, Haji Mohammed Wazir.

Adin, 39, found an uncle’s wife, Shatara, shot to death at the entrance. “When I grabbed her, half of her head fell down and her eyes fell on the ground.”

He moved into another room where he found a pile of naked, burned corpses. Adin said he could still smell smoke.

Seven of the bodies belong to children younger than 15. Four were children younger than 5. Several of the young ones had boot marks on their faces.

He speculated that someone threw 2-year-old Palwasha on the fire while the child was still alive.

“They were all shot in their heads,” Adin said. “Their brains were still on their pillows.”

Adin testified in a stoic manner, tilting his head slightly for an hour on the witness stand. He wore traditional Afghan clothing, a turban and a formal shalwar khameez shirt. He recounted how he separated the males from the females in the pile, and then took their bodies to Bales’ combat outpost – Village Stability Platform Belambay. There, villagers from Najiban protested the massacre before burying the bodies.

Defense attorneys were gentle with Adin. Bales’ lead attorney, John Henry Browne, began his questioning by saying, “I am sorry for your loss.”

Bales allegedly made two forays out of his post on the night of the killings. First he reportedly walked to Alkozai, where he allegedly killed four people and wounded three in Naim’s family, and second to Najiban, where he reportedly murdered Adin’s relatives.

Prosecutors on Friday night called three witnesses who said they saw an American soldier in Alkozai shooting up Naim’s household. Naim first saw the American when the soldier jumped a wall with a rifle and a blinding flashlight.

Naim’s testimony grew forceful at times. His sons spoke more quietly. The boys smiled shyly when they swore an oath to tell the truth.

Sadiquallah is a soft-spoken 13-year old who was shot in the ear on the night of the killings. He fidgeted through his testimony, and frequently looked down at the ground while he answered questions through an interpreter.

He hid behind a curtain while the American soldier shot up his home, he said. "He came after me," Sadiquallah said.

Quadratullah is a year or so older than Sadiquallah. He escaped injury on March 11, but witnessed a neighbor's grandmother being shot to death. He also saw at least one of his siblings being wounded.

"We kept saying we are children, we are children," Quadratullah remembered. "Then he shot, he shot one of the children."

Quadratullah spoke more confidently than his younger brother. He grabbed a neighbor's motorcycle after the attack and alerted an older brother about the violence in their father's home.

The brother, Faizullah, gathered five wounded villagers at the house and took them to a nearby American forward base for medical care.

In the morning, Quadratullah found footprints from what he assumed was the American soldier who attacked his home. They led back to an American outpost, he said.

Both boys said they saw one American soldier that night. Quadratullah recognized that the soldier was an American because of his American combat pants and his weapon.

Quadratullah said the American wore only a T-shirt on his torso, which corroborates testimony from U.S. soldiers who apprehended Bales at their outpost.

It contradicts statements from two Afghan guards who on Friday night said they saw one American walk into the base and one American leave their camp. The Afghan guards said the man wore an armored vest that night.

Bales’ evidence hearing is scheduled to resume Saturday with testimony from three more Afghans he allegedly wounded and three more relatives of his alleged victims.

His defense attorneys at the start of Friday night’s hearing protested the Army’s decision not to bring Afghans with passports to Lewis-McChord, as they likely will have to do to participate in a court-martial. Browne is in Kandahar where he can cross-examine the Afghan witnesses in person.

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