JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. (AP) — A relative of some of the victims killed in a massacre in southern Afghanistan last March testified at a hearing for the U.S. soldier accused in the attack that he found their bodies piled together and burned.
Speaking through an interpreter in a live video feed from Kandahar, Afghanistan, Khamal sat at the witness table with his arms folded, his head tilted to the left, as he recounted what he had seen.
After he concluded his testimony, Khamal offered his thanks and added: “My request is to get justice.”
The Army says Staff Sgt. Robert Bales went on a rampage in two villages near his base on March 11, killing seven adults and nine children. Bales, 39, faces the death penalty if he is convicted.
On the morning after the killings, Khamal said, he arrived at the family’s compound to find the body of the mother of a man he described as his cousin. He said she was in a doorway with a gunshot to her head.
Further inside, Khamal said, he found the bodies of six of his cousin’s seven children, the man’s wife, and other relatives. The fire that burned the bodies was out, but he could smell smoke.
The video feed is being shown in a military courtroom at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, outside Seattle, where a preliminary hearing is being held to help determine whether Bales should face a court-martial.
On the video, Khamal, who had a beard and was wearing a turban, was asked if he could testify that he personally saw the bodies. He answered: “Yes, I have seen each individual and took them out by myself.”
Asked to describe the injuries, he said: “Everybody was shot on the head. … I didn’t pay attention to the rest of the wounds.”
With the bodies quickly buried and no forensic evidence available from them, prosecutors need such testimony to prove the killings occurred.
Earlier, two Afghan National Army guards recounted what they had seen in the pre-dawn darkness outside the base the night of the killings.
One guard recounted that a man had arrived at the base and did not stop even after he asked him three times to do so. Later in the night, the second guard said, he saw a soldier leave the base — laughing as he went.
The guards did not say the soldier was the same person nor did they identify the man as Bales.
Prosecutors say Bales broke his shooting rampage into two episodes, attacking one village, returning to the base and then departing again to raid another.
Dressed in green fatigues, the first guard, named Nematullah, testified that he had told the man who arrived around 1:30 a.m. to stop. The guard said the man came toward him, said “how are you” in an Afghan language and went inside the base.
Under cross-examination from Bales’ attorney, John Henry Browne, who traveled to Afghanistan to question the witnesses, the guard said he saw the man but could not identify him.
Browne pressed further, asking if the guard could describe the soldier at all. The guard said he was white and well built, but those were the only details he could provide.
Nematullah also said the soldier was coming from the north, which is the direction of a village that prosecutors say Bales attacked first in the nighttime rampage March 11.
Later, a second guard, Tosh Ali, said he replaced Nematullah and saw an American leaving the base around 2:30 a.m. The man greeted Ali as well with “how are you” in an Afghan language, and was laughing as he walked away.
Bales, an Ohio native and father of two from Lake Tapps, Wash., faces 16 counts of premeditated murder and six counts of attempted murder in the attack.
Prosecutors say that Bales wore a T-shirt, cape and night-vision goggles — no body armor — when he slipped away from his remote post, Camp Belambay.
In between his attacks, he woke a fellow soldier, reported what he’d done and said he was headed out to kill more, the soldier testified. But the soldier didn’t believe what Bales said, and went back to sleep.
Eleven of the victims were from the same family.
On Thursday, a U.S. Army DNA expert testified that Bales had the blood of at least four people on his clothes and guns when he surrendered.
The blood of two males and two females was discovered on Bales’ pants, shirt, gloves, rifle and other items, said Christine Trapolsi, an examiner at the Army’s Criminal Investigation Laboratory.
To preserve the evidence, she said she only tested a portion of the bloodstains and it’s possible more DNA profiles could be discovered through additional testing.
Bales has not entered a plea and was not expected to testify. His attorneys have not discussed the evidence, but say Bales has post-traumatic stress disorder and suffered a concussive head injury during a prior deployment to Iraq.
A U.S. agent who investigated the massacre has testified that local villagers were so angered it was weeks before American forces could visit the crime scenes less than a mile from a remote base.
By that time, bodies had been buried and some bloodstains had been scraped from the walls, the agent said. Other stains remained, on walls and floors.
Investigators recovered shell casings consistent with the weapons Bales reportedly carried. They also said Bales tested positive for steroids three days after the killings.
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