Afghans find hope for justice in video testimony
JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. — Through a video monitor in a military courtroom near Seattle, Staff Sgt. Robert Bales saw young Afghan girls smile beneath bright head coverings before they described the bloodbath he’s accused of committing.
He saw boys fidget as they remembered how they hid behind curtains when a gunman killed 16 people in their village and one other.
And he saw dignified, thick-bearded men who spoke of unspeakable carnage: the piled, burned bodies of children and parents alike.
From the other side of that video link, in Afghanistan, another man saw something else: signs that justice will be done.
“I saw the person who killed my brother sitting there, head down with guilt,” Haji Mullah Baraan said Monday in an interview with The Associated Press. “He didn’t look up toward the camera.”
Baraan was one of many Afghan witnesses who testified in Bales‘ case by live video link over the weekend.
“We got great hope from this and we are sure that we will get justice,” Baraan said.
Prosecutors say Bales, 39, slipped away from his remote base at Camp Belambay to attack two villages early on March 11, 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.
Bales faces 16 counts of premeditated murder and six counts of attempted murder. The preliminary hearing, which began Nov. 5 and is scheduled to end with closing arguments Tuesday, will help determine whether he faces a court-martial. He could face the death penalty if convicted.
Several soldiers testified that Bales returned to the base alone just before dawn the morning of the attacks, covered in blood, and that he made incriminating statements such as, “I thought I was doing the right thing.”
Prosecutors say he also made a mid-massacre confession, returning to the base to wake another soldier and report his activities before heading out to the other village. The soldier testified that he didn’t believe Bales and went back to sleep.
The Army held nighttime sessions of the hearing on Friday, Saturday and Sunday for the convenience of the Afghan witnesses.
They were as young as Robina, just 7, who wore a deep-red head covering and a nervous smile as she described how she hid behind her father when a gunman came to their village that night.
The stranger fired, she said, and her father died, cursing in pain and anger.
One of the bullets struck her in the leg, but she didn’t realize it right away.