Bales hearing: Afghan teenagers describe attack on their home

 

Tacoma News Tribune

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.

Read more World Wires stories from the Miami Herald

  • Turkey says it plans to stop flow of IS fighters

    Turkey's foreign minister says his country is resolved to stop the flow of European extremists trying to join the Islamic State group.

  •  
 A few of the many Scottish and British newspapers on sale Thursday morning in Edinburgh.

    Scotland heads to the voting booth

    Today, Scottish voters had to the polling places to vote on a referendum whether they’ll stay in the United Kingdom or become an independent country. Photographer Claudia Himmelreich tells their story.

  • Leading Bahrain activist released from jail

    Bahrain's Interior Ministry says police have released human rights activist Maryam al-Khawaja, who was detained last month after landing in the Gulf Arab country on a visit to see her jailed father.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category