May 16, 2013

Afghans tell of U.S. soldier's killing rampage

By Kathy Gannon / The Associated Press

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Eight-year-old Hikmatullah said he remembers the sight of the attacker in full military uniform. "I was so afraid. I pretended I was asleep." His mother, Masooma, said the soldier found him and punched him repeatedly in the head.

The Associated Press

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Zardana, 11, speaks in Kandahar, Afghanistan, last month about a pre-dawn attack last year when a U.S. soldier burst into her family's home. Zardana said her visiting cousin saw the soldier chasing them and ran to help, but he was shot and killed. "We couldn't stop. We just wanted somewhere to hide. I was holding on to my grandmother and we ran to our neighbors."

The Associated Press

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Masooma said that the soldier returned to the family's bedroom after killing her husband. She stood in terror. Her children hid under their blankets. The soldier moved slowly and seemed angry. Gesturing to show how he hit her in the arms and shoved her to the ground, Masooma said he then moved toward her son Hikmatullah, then 7.

Her son said he remembers the sight of the attacker in full military uniform. "I was so afraid. I pretended I was asleep," he said.

Masooma said the soldier found Hikmatullah and punched him repeatedly in the head.

She said the soldier then found her 2-year-old daughter, Shahara. He grabbed her pigtails and violently shook her head back and forth.

He then went to the crying baby Hazratullah and shoved the muzzle of his black pistol into the infant's mouth, she said.

"He just held it there in his mouth. I screamed and screamed, 'He is just a baby. Don't kill him. Don't kill him.' But he just kept the gun in his mouth. He didn't say anything. He just stared at him," she recalled. As she recounted the attack, Hazratullah fussed and squirmed beneath the giant shawl that enveloped her.

After some time, she said, the soldier took the gun from the baby's mouth and walked back into the living room. Masooma dug her bare foot into the dirt to demonstrate how the soldier slipped his foot beneath her husband's head to lift it from the floor, as if to be sure he was really dead. The soldier looked down at her husband, shrugged his shoulders and returned to searching her home. After he finished rifling through their belongings, he left.

Investigators say Bales was armed with a 9 mm pistol and an M-4 rifle outfitted with a grenade launcher when he walked off his base and went on a nighttime killing spree in five homes, including Masooma's. He faces 16 counts of premeditated murder; six counts of attempted murder; seven counts of assault; and one count each of possessing steroids, using steroids, destroying a laptop, burning bodies, and using alcohol. He is being held in a military prison at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, south of Seattle.

On April 23, Bales appeared in a military courtroom at Joint Base Lewis-McChord for a hearing that focused on what might happen if he is convicted, including which relatives and friends could speak on his behalf during a sentencing hearing. Such testimony could help determine whether he receives the death penalty.

The U.S. government flew Baraan and five other Afghan men – all members of families who were attacked – to Seattle to familiarize them with the U.S. judicial system and notify them that they would likely have to return when the court-martial begins in September. Only three of those who went to the U.S. in March said they saw the attack. Some, like Baraan, went on behalf of relatives who were slain or women prevented from traveling.

None of the Afghan witnesses was able to identify Bales as the attacker, but other evidence, including tests of the blood on his clothes, implicated him, according to testimony from a DNA expert.

The AP also spoke with several others who survived the attack or lost family members. To avoid putting the Afghans in danger should they be seen talking to foreigners, the AP arranged for those interviews to take place at a nondescript hotel in Kandahar. The Afghans drove the dusty, dangerous road from their villages to the hotel and then returned home.

Said Jan, an elderly man who was visiting Kandahar during the attack and lost his wife and three other family members, said he went to the United States expecting justice.

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Mohammed Wazir sits with his only surviving son, Habib Shahin, 4, in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in April as he talks about the events of March 11, 2012, when a U.S. soldier burst into his family's home. Wazir returned to his home that morning to find 11 members of his family dead, their bodies partially burned. The youngest among the dead was his 1-year-old daughter Palawan Shah.

The Associated Press


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