JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. – The soldier accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians watched as child after child described the bloodbath that left their parents and other loved ones dead. Whatever reaction Staff Sgt. Robert Bales might have had, he kept hidden behind a calm face.
Three sessions of nighttime testimony in Bales’ preliminary hearing, scheduled to accommodate witnesses participating by video link from Afghanistan, wrapped up late Sunday. After the hearing at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, the investigating officer will decide whether to court-martial Bales, who could be sentenced to die.
The witnesses were as young as little Robina, just 7, who described how she hid behind her father when a gunman came to their village that night, how the stranger fired, and how her father died, cursing in pain and anger.
“I was standing behind my father,” she said. “He shot my father.”
One of the bullets struck her in the leg, but she didn’t realize it right away.
Prosecutors say Bales slipped away from his base to attack two villages in Kandahar province, killing 16 civilians, including nine children. The slayings drew such angry protests that the U.S. temporarily halted combat operations in Afghanistan, and it was three weeks before American investigators could reach the crime scenes.
Maj. Khudai Dad, chief of criminal techniques with the Afghan Uniform Police, testified that he did not believe one soldier could have carried out the attacks, though he offered no evidence to support that opinion, and nearly all other testimony and evidence at the hearing pointed to a single shooter.
One Army Criminal Investigations Command special agent testified earlier that several months after the massacre, she took a statement from one woman who reported that there were two soldiers in her room – one took her husband out of the room and shot him, and the other held her back when she tried to follow.
But other eyewitnesses reported that there was just one shooter, and several soldiers have testified that Bales returned to his base, just before dawn, alone and covered in blood.
A video taken from a surveillance blimp also captured a sole figure returning to the base.