Defense attorneys for Staff Sgt. Robert Bales mined contradictory statements from Afghan villagers over the past three nights to suggest that more than one American soldier could have been involved in a March massacre that claimed the lives of 16 Afghan civilians.
The Army contends Bales carried out the killings by himself in two separate trips out of his combat outpost, Village Stability Platform Belambay, in the early hours of March 11 -- first to the village of Alkozai and then to the village of Najiban.
Bales, a 39-year-old former Lake Tapps resident, is in court at Joint Base Lewis-McChord for a evidence hearing that could lead to a death-penalty court-martial. He spent his entire Army career at Lewis-McChord, and served on four combat tours with the same Stryker brigade.
Prosecutors over the past week have called on several of Bales alleged victims who insisted they saw only one shooter, as well as Bales fellow soldiers who testified he was the only person missing from their ranks at Belambay on the night of the killings.
Bales defense team, however, has plenty of material to suggest that multiple soldiers participated in the killings.
One person cannot do this work, said Maj. Khudai Dad, an Afghan officer who investigated the killings the morning after they took place.
He testified via a video link from Kandahar Province late Sunday. He did not have evidence to support his argument, only a contention that one person could not kill so many people in separate villages.
He conceded that he spent only an hour in the two villages.
Better evidence could come from Masooma, the widow of a man killed in Najiban. She told an Army Criminal Investigative Command agent in June that she saw two American soldiers enter her home, shout about the Taliban, take her husband Mohammed Dawood outside and execute him with a pistol to his head.
Mohammed Dawoods widow told 1st Agent Leona Mansapit that she overheard multiple Americans speaking English in the compounds around her home. The widow also reported hearing helicopters overhead and seeing multiple flares shot in the sky.
Mansapit, who presented Masooma's version of events in court Sunday, said she had no reason to doubt the credibility of the widow.
No other witnesses in the past week of testimony have described helicopters near Najiban that night. Several American soldiers have said they shot flares called illumination rounds in the sky when they heard gunfire about 1:30 a.m. on March 11 and again about 3:30 a.m. when they realized Bales was missing.
Masooma did not testify at Bales evidence hearing. Her family does not want her to testify because she is a woman, a Lewis-McChord official said.
"Were still trying to bridge that gap, the official said.
Instead, her brother-in-law, Mullah Baraan, spoke for her. He insisted that she told him only one soldier attacked her home.
I talked to my brothers wife and I had her tell me exactly what happened, he said.
Bales defense attorney, John Henry Browne, asked if Baraan had received a $50,000 payment from the U.S. government. Baraan confirmed that he had, to take care of the children, he said. Thats the sum the U.S. has given to relatives of each of Bales alleged victims.
One key piece of prosecution evidence would make it difficult for Bales defense team to demonstrate that multiple soldiers were in the village of Najiban.