Daily Archives: November 12, 2012

Afghan massacre: Police officer doubts single-killer theory

A graveyard in the Panjwai district of southern Afghanistan, near Kandahar, where several of the 16 slain villagers are buried. (Mamoon Durrani / November 11, 2012)

latimes.com | Nov 11, 2012

By Kim Murphy

JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. — Testimony in the preliminary hearing for U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales wound up Sunday night with a senior Afghan police investigator saying he did not believe Bales could have killed 16 people in two separate villages by himself.

Maj. Khudai Dad, chief of criminal techniques for the Afghan police in the province of Kandahar, said he walked the area between three housing compounds hit by a gunman on the night of March 11 and doubted that any single person could have killed so many people in such a wide area in the space of three hours.

U.S. prosecutors have said they believe Bales left the small special operations outpost southwest of Kandahar shortly after midnight, returned at one point, and went out again, finally coming back a bit after 4:30 a.m. Khudai Dad said his brief investigation showed the killings occurred between midnight and 3 a.m.

“I was thinking, and I am thinking, that this is not the thing that one person can do,” Khudai Dad said on the last day of testimony in a weeklong Article 32 hearing to determine whether the case will go to a court-martial, with a potential death penalty.

“If it’s only one person, one person cannot go to three different places,” Khudai Dad said. Not only was it too far — the Afghan officer estimated the compounds at just under four miles apart, though military prosecutors have said the distance was less — but it was too dangerous, he said.

Several people testified that no one ventured outside Camp Belambay alone, and no one went outside “the wire” after dark.

“One person [would] not have the courage to go to two villages in dark night,” Khudai Dad testified.

The Afghan police officer was the last witness for the defense, which has opened the door to the possibility that there might have been other gunmen. Military prosecutors, cross-examining the investigator, raised questions about whether he had accurately assessed the distance between the three housing compounds.

They also had Khudai Dad list the other reasons for suspicion that he apparently included in a written report: The U.S. base commander would not answer his questions, he was not allowed to interview Bales, and he doubted that an American soldier could have committed shootings in three locations in the dead of night without being detected and stopped.

Lt. Col. Joseph Morse, the military prosecutor, also asked Khudai Dad whether he reported that the empty shell casings he collected at the shooting scenes had different strike marks on the bottoms.

Khudai Dad appeared to deny this last point, suggesting that most of the information he got about the casings came from his police “mentor” in the U.S. Army. “When I give those empty shells to my mentor, they did not tell me if it was from one Kalashnikov or many,” he said.

Bales returned to the base carrying an M-4 rifle, a 9-millimeter handgun and a grenade launcher.

The prosecution has presented a large number of witnesses, including Bales’ colleagues and two Afghan guards, who established a timeline that would probably have been sufficient for Bales to leave the base twice, travel a certain distance and return.

One witness said Bales woke him up in the middle of the night and told him he had left the base, killed some people and was headed out again — but the witness didn’t take Bales’ claim seriously.

Khudai Dad’s testimony did make clear the difficulties U.S. investigators had in collecting a reliable array of physical evidence. Though he set out for the villages first thing in the morning, Khudai Dad said, he found that a team from the Afghan National Army had already been there and had collected many of the empty shell casings, which the Army refused to turn over to him.

Khudai Dad collected several others that he found and put them together in a single bag to turn over to the U.S. Army.

At the home where Mohammad Dawood was killed in the village of Najiban, he found two empty shell casings, but had to leave soon because Dawood’s friends and family were angry, he said.

“They were all crying. They threw shoes at me,” he said.

“Why did they throw shoes at you?” asked Bales’ military defense lawyer, Maj. Gregory Malson.

“Because their man was killed,” he said. “Everybody was crying — the sister, the wife. The women told me, ‘A man came in the night and he killed us, and you come in the morning?’ ”

Lawyers in the case were scheduled to make their closing statements on Tuesday.

Afghan massacre ‘too big for lone-nut shooter’

Afghan villagers remove the body of one of the victims of the March 2012 massacre (AFP/File, Jangir)

AFP | Nov 12, 2012

By Andrew Winner

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Washington — A lone shooter could not have committed the massacre of 16 Afghan villagers blamed on a US soldier, a witness testified late Sunday, stressing the scale of the atrocity.

The defense witness said the extent of the carnage, wrought overnight in two villages near a US army base in March, was too great for it to be the work of only Sergeant Robert Bales, facing a possible court martial.

“One person cannot do this work,” said Khudai Dad of the Afghan Uniform Police, who searched the scene of the killings the next morning. “One person doesn’t have the courage to go from one village to another in the night.”

Bales, balding with close-cropped blond hair and wearing standard army combat uniform, showed no emotion as he watched the testimony on a small monitor placed in front of him.

He faces 16 counts of murder, six of attempted murder, seven of assault, two of using drugs and one of drinking alcohol. Seventeen of the 22 victims were women or children and almost all were shot in the head.

The 39-year-old allegedly left his base in the Panjwayi district of Kandahar province on the night of March 11 to commit the killings, which included nine children. He allegedly set several of their bodies on fire.

Prosecutors at a pre-trial hearing, held on an army base south of Seattle, have alleged that Bales left the base twice to carry out the killings, returning in between and even telling a colleague what he had done.

For the last three nights it has heard testimony by video link from southern Afghanistan — held at night to allow witnesses to give their accounts during the daytime.

Dad, the last witness to appear by video link, said he believed the two attacks must have happened simultaneously.

He said he went first to the US base, then to what was described as the first crime scene. Although the Afghan National Army (ANA) were only supposed to secure the scene until he arrived, some shell casings were missing.

“The ANA was there before I (arrived). They picked up all the shell casings, all the rounds,” he said, adding that he himself had found a total of 13 shells.

In one house, “there was blood in the entrance when the woman came to the front door and was shot,” said Dad, slight man with a mustache and spectacles,

After searching three homes in the two villages involved, he said he was struck by the impression that more than one person would have had to be involved.

“I was thinking this is not a thing that one person can do,” he said, while adding that he believed the attacks occurred at the same time as each other, somewhere between midnight and 3:00 am.

Bales was flown from Afghanistan back to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas shortly after the alleged massacre, before being moved back to Fort Lewis-McChord recently, home base of the US 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment.

His wife and two children were moved to the sprawling military base south of Seattle for their own security, and to shield them from the glare of the media in the wake of the killings.

Before the hearings, Bales’ wife reiterated her belief that he was innocent, saying he did not remember the shootings and was shocked when he was told details of the allegations against him.

The massacre is thought to be the deadliest crime by a US soldier during the decade-long conflict and tested Washington and Kabul’s already tense relationship to the limit.

The so-called Article 32 pre-trial hearing, to decide whether Bales should face a court martial, started on November 5 and is expected to wrap up this week, in theory on Tuesday.

Children recount horror of Afghan massacre

A courtroom sketch shows seven-year-old Zardana, who was shot in the head during the March 2012 massacres in Afghanistan and nearly died, testifies via video link in the military trial of Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012. / Lois Silver/CBS News

Associated Press | Nov 12, 2012


JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. (AP) — Little Robina took her seat wearing a deep-red head covering and a nervous smile, ready to tell her story. She giggled as any 7-year-old in the spotlight might.

But when the questions began, what she recalled seemed impossibly dark: how she hid behind her father when the 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 testified simply, by video feed from Afghanistan Saturday night during a hearing for the soldier accused of killing 16 civilians, including nine children, in Kandahar Province. “He shot my father.”

One of the bullets struck her in the leg, but she didn’t realize it right away, she said.

Her testimony came on the second overnight session of the preliminary hearing for Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, who prosecutors say slipped away from his base to attack two villages. 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.

The stories recounted by the villagers have been harrowing. They described torched bodies, a son finding his wounded father, and boys cowering behind a curtain while others screamed “We are children! We are children!”

Afghan massacre: Farmer says U.S. gunman ‘just started shooting me’

Bales sat quietly throughout, betraying no reaction to what he heard.

Robina’s friend, Zardana, now 8, also testified, but only briefly to describe what the shooter was wearing.

Zardana suffered a gunshot wound to the top of her head, and when she arrived at a nearby military base, the doctors focused on treating the other injured victims first. They figured Zardana had no chance of surviving.

After two months at a military hospital in Afghanistan and three more at a Navy hospital in San Diego, she can walk and talk again.

Before she testified, Zardana sat at the witness table sipping from a pink juice box through a pink straw. A loose head covering and a barrette held her dark brown hair out of her face.

The hearing at Joint Base Lewis-McChord is meant to help determine whether Bales, 39, will face a court-martial in the deaths. He could face the death penalty if he is convicted.

The Ohio native and father of two from Lake Tapps, Wash., has not entered a plea and was not expected to testify. His attorneys have not discussed the evidence, but say he has post-traumatic stress disorder and suffered a concussive head injury while serving in Iraq.

The Afghan witnesses recounted the villagers who lived in the attacked compounds and listed the names of those killed, to provide a record of the lives lost. The bodies were buried quickly under Islamic custom, and no forensic evidence was available to prove the number of victims.

Sadiquallah, a slight boy of about 13 or 14 whose head rose just above his chair at the witness table, described being awakened by a neighbor screaming that an American had “killed our men.”

He said he and another boy, Zardana’s brother, ran to hide in a storage room and ducked behind a curtain. It provided no protection from the bullet that grazed his head and fractured his skull. Sadiquallah said the shooter had a gun and a light, but he could not identify the man.

The other child was hit in the thigh and also survived. That boy, Rafiullah, testified Saturday that an American had attacked them and put a gun in his sister’s mouth.

His father, Samiullah, was away when the shootings occurred, and testified that by the time he returned the next morning, his two wounded children had been driven to a base for treatment. He found his mother among the four corpses at the compound.

“I just saw her, I cried, and I could not look on her face,” he said.

Prosecutors said that in between his attacks, Bales woke a fellow soldier, reported what he’d done and said he was headed out to kill more. The soldier testified that he didn’t believe what Bales said, and went back to sleep.

During cross-examination of several witnesses Saturday, Bales’ attorney, John Henry Browne, sought to elicit testimony about whether there might have been more than one shooter.

One Army Criminal Investigations Command special agent testified that several months after the massacre, she took a statement from one woman whose husband was killed. The woman 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.

Sandy victims: Life in a FEMA Camp feels like prison

Ashley Sabol, 21, of Seaside Heights, New Jersey looks over her accommodations at Tent City in Monmouth Park in Oceanport, New Jersey November 9. 2012. REUTERS/Michelle Conlin

“They treat us like we’re prisoners,” says Ashley Sabol, 21, of Seaside Heights, New Jersey. “It’s bad to say, but we honestly feel like we’re in a concentration camp.”

Reuters | Nov 10, 2012

By Michelle Conlin

OCEANPORT, New Jersey (Reuters) – It is hard to sleep at night inside the tent city at Oceanport, New Jersey. A few hundred Superstorm Sandy refugees have been living here since Wednesday – a muddy camp that is a sprawling anomaly amidst Mercedes Benz dealerships and country clubs in this town near the state’s devastated coastal region.

Inside the giant billowy white tents, the massive klieg lights glare down from the ceiling all night long. The air is loud with the buzz of generators pumping out power. The post-storm housing — a refugee camp on the grounds of the Monmouth Park racetrack – is in lockdown, with security guards at every door, including the showers.

No one is allowed to go anywhere without showing their I.D. Even to use the bathroom, “you have to show your badge,” said Amber Decamp, a 22-year-old whose rental was washed away in Seaside Heights, New Jersey.

The mini city has no cigarettes, no books, no magazines, no board games, no TVs, and no newspapers or radios. On Friday night, in front of the mess hall, which was serving fried chicken and out-of-the-box, just-add-water potatoes, a child was dancing and dancing — to nothing. “We’re starting to lose it,” said Decamp. “But we have nowhere else to go.”

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The tent city is emblematic of the crisis left by Sandy: the tens of thousands of people who have no place to live. Some are without power and heat – even if the utilities have their power back, their electrics and heating systems in their homes may have been destroyed by the floods. They are the short-termers. Others have a longer-term problem – their houses were made completely uninhabitable by flooding, ripped apart, or burned to the ground. And they pose a far more daunting challenge.

For now, all are without homes in one of the harshest housing markets in the world, with low vacancy rates and high rents. “There’s inventory in other parts of the country, but not here,” said University of Pennsylvania Wharton School Professor Susan Wachter.

To be sure, no one has been forced to stay in the tent city. But many say they have no other immediate option.

“This is an incredibly tough situation trying to find housing for these people,” said Federal Emergency Management Agency Public Affairs Manager Scott Sanders. “With winter coming, they obviously can’t stay there.”

FEMA has plans to bring trailers into New Jersey to increase the amount of temporary housing.

While FEMA is helping at the tent city, it is being run by the state of New Jersey. The state’s Department of Human Services did not immediately return calls seeking comment on Saturday morning.

Brad Gair, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s new emergency housing czar, has also talked about the complexities of post-disaster housing. The authorities in the region simply don’t have access to enough alternative housing or hotel rooms for all those who have been displaced. And all the problems this creates are on display here, where life has been even worse than during the storm, evacuees say.


One reason: the information blackout. Outside of the tightly guarded community on Friday, word was spreading that the Department of Human Services would aim to move residents to the racetrack clubhouse on Saturday. The news came after photos of people bundled in blankets and parkas inside the tents circulated in the media.

But inside the tent city, which has room for thousands but was only sheltering a couple of hundred on Friday, no one had heard anything about a move – or about anything else. “They treat us like we’re prisoners,” says Ashley Sabol, 21, of Seaside Heights, New Jersey. “It’s bad to say, but we honestly feel like we’re in a concentration camp.”

Sabol, who is unemployed and whose rental home was washed away in the hurricane, remembers being woken up on Wednesday at the shelter she was staying in at Toms River High School. Conditions there were “actually fine,” said Sabol.

Sabol was told that she had half an hour to pack: everyone was getting shipped to hotels in Wildwood, New Jersey, where they would be able to re-acquaint themselves with showers, beds and a door.

Sabol and about 50 other people boarded a New Jersey Transit bus, which drove around, seemingly aimlessly, for hours. Worse, this week’s Nor’easter snow storm was gathering force, lashing the bus with wind and rain.

After four hours, the bus driver pulled into a dirt parking lot. The passengers were expecting a hotel with heat and maybe even a restaurant. Instead they saw a mini city of portable toilets and voluminous white tents with their flaps snapping in the wind. Inside, they got sheets, a rubbery pillow, a cot and one blanket.

There was no heat that night, and as temperatures dropped to freezing, people could start to see their breath. The gusts of wind blew snow and slush onto Sabol’s face as her cot was near the open tent flaps. She shivered. Her hands turned purple.

It has taken three days for the tents to get warm.

Power workers from out of state who are helping utilities restore electricity to the area were starting to bed down in the tent city, too. Some empty vodka bottles appeared on the muddy street. There were now far more men than women or children, and the women said it was impossible not to notice the leering of some men.

Brian Skorupski, a manager with Tolland, Connecticut-based Asplundh Line Construction, had just rolled in with 50 workers, who were there to help restore power. Skorupski is used to his house in the suburbs. He missed his king-sized bed with his Hotel Collection sheets. “The only thing worse than this is sleeping in your truck,” he said.