Afghanistan War

Grisly details emerge in hearing against US soldier accused of Afghan massacre

Grisly details emerge as witnesses, victims' family give testimony in case against US soldier

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 November, 2012, 3:55am

From a live video feed half a world away in Afghanistan, in an extraordinary night court session, descriptions of chaos and horror poured into a military courtroom an hour south of Seattle.

"Their brains were still on the pillows," said Mullah Khamal Adin, 39, describing the 11 members of his cousin's family he found dead in the family compound - most of their bodies burned in a pile in one room.

Adin was in the US Army's preliminary hearing that began late last Friday, in the case against Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, 39, who is accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians in Kandahar. Bales could face the death penalty.

The attacks, which occurred on March 11 in a deeply poor rural region, were the deadliest war crime attributed to a single US soldier in the decade of war after the September 11 attacks. The military says Bales was serving his fourth combat tour overseas when he walked away from his remote outpost in southern Afghanistan and shot and stabbed members of several families in a nighttime ambush on two villages. At least nine of those he is accused of killing were children, and others were women. After the victims were shot, some of their bodies were dragged into a pile and burned.

"'What are you doing?'" witness Haji Naim, a farmer, said he had shouted at the US soldier, whom he described as wearing a blindingly bright headlamp in a house that, without electricity, was pitch black. The gunman said nothing, Naim said, and simply kept firing. "He shot me right here, right here, and right here."

But most of the testimony, however graphic, was circumstantial, pointing to a lone American gunman, but not directly implicating Bales.

Bales, a decorated veteran of three tours in Iraq before being sent to Afghanistan in December, was brought in from a military prison in Kansas for the hearing.

Adin, who was summoned to his cousin's home the morning after the killings, told of boot prints on bodies, including the head of a child who had apparently been shot and stomped on or kicked. He also described a small child who appeared to have been "grabbed from her bed and thrown into the fire".

But Adin, who arrived after the fact, never saw the gunman.

Bales, who has not entered a plea, rarely showed emotion throughout the testimony.

Two Afghan army guards testified that they had seen a US soldier leaving and returning to the base near the times that matched the attacks, but neither could identify the soldier, who was cloaked in darkness.