Photo: Spc. Ryan Hallock, 28th Public Affairs/U.S. Army
Military prosecutors told a preliminary hearing that they will seek the death penalty in the case of the U.S. soldier accused of killing 16 Afghan villagers after they present evidence proving “chilling premeditation,” Bill Rigby of Reuters reports.But there are legitimate uncertainties surrounding the worst case of civilian slaughter blamed on an individual U.S. soldier since Vietnam.
Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales is accused of twice leaving U.S. Camp Belambay in the Kandahar province before dawn on March 11, entering homes in two villages, gunning down nine children, four men and three women, then burning some of the bodies.
In March Bales’ civilian lawyer, John Henry Browne, said the defence team was “facing an almost complete information blackout from the government” and suggested Bales may not have acted alone.
Witness reports and circumstantial evidence corroborate that idea.
An Afghan woman told the GlobalPost that she heard helicopters fly overhead as a uniformed soldier with a radio antenna on his shoulder and a walkie-talkie “he was speaking into” entered her home and killed her husband. She said both her and her children “saw at least 20 Americans, with heavy weapons, searching all the rooms in our compound.”
Afghan lawmaker lawmaker Naheem Lalai said that all the villagers the Afghan investigative team spoke with said “15 to 20 men had conducted a night raid operation in several areas in the village” that some of the murders took place.
Even the initial report from Reuters refers to multiple shooters as they cite neighbours and relatives of the dead who said they saw a group of U.S. soldiers arrived at their village at about 2 a.m., entered homes and opened fire.
“They were all drunk and shooting all over the place,” neighbour Agha Lala, who visited one of the homes where killings took place, told Reuters.
The lead prosecutor, Lt. Col. Jay Morse, told the court that Bales had been drinking with two fellow soldiers before going to the village where he committed the first killings. Morse said Bales then returned to the camp and told a drinking buddy that he “just shot up some people” before leaving for the second village, Rigby reports. Morse called Bales’ actions “deliberate, methodical.”
Several Afghans of a village near where the murders took place were convinced that the massacre was in retaliation for a roadside bomb detonated in the area a few days earlier.
The residents told The Associated Press and Afghan government officials that after the bombing U.S. troops lined up men from the village against a wall and told them they and their families would pay for the attack. Browne has said that Bales was upset because a buddy had lost a leg in an explosion a few days before the shootings.
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