Grave stones of some of the 16 Afghan villagers who were killed in the March massacre are pictured in the graveyard in Panjwai district of Kandahar province on 4 November 2012. (Photo: AFP – Mamoon Durrani)
A shooting rampage in March that left 16 Afghans dead in two villages was the work of more than one person, an Afghan police investigator testified on Sunday, contradicting the US government’s account.
Military prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for US Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales who is charged with killing the villagers, mostly women and children who were shot in the head.
The US government says it believes Bales was solely responsible for the killings, but several indirect accounts have suggested that more than one US soldier was involved.
“One person did not have the courage to go to the villages in the dark of night,” Major Khudai Dad, the Afghan Uniform Police’s chief of criminal techniques in Kandahar City, told a hearing at a US Army base via video link from Kandahar.
“There’s no way it is one person,” said Dad, speaking through an interpreter. Dad visited three compounds several thousand meters apart in the villages of Alkozai and Najiban around 8 am on March 11, hours after the attacks.
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.
Bales, wearing standard army combat uniform, showed no emotion as he watched the testimony on a small monitor placed in front of him.
The shootings in Kandahar province marked the worst case of civilian slaughter blamed on an individual US soldier since the Vietnam War.
Second shooter theory
On Saturday, a US investigator told the hearing that the wife of one of the victims told her during questioning in June that she saw more than one soldier on the night in question.
Army criminal investigator Leona Mansapit said the wife of Mohammed Dawood, who was killed in the village of Najiban, recalled a gunman entering the couple’s room shouting about the Taliban, while another man, a US soldier, stood at the door.
This woman was persuaded by male family members not to testify to the hearing, an army source, who asked not to be named, said on Sunday.
Dad said he took bullet shells from three different compounds, which were several kilometers apart, and turned them over to the Afghan National Army, who passed them on to US investigators.
“In those three areas, where the incidents were, I was thinking and I’m thinking that is not a thing that one person would do,” he said.
Bales faces 16 counts of premeditated murder and six counts of attempted murder, as well as charges of assault and wrongfully possessing and using steroids and alcohol while deployed.
Prosecutors have already presented physical evidence to tie Bales to the crime scene, with a forensic investigator saying a sample of blood on his clothing matched a swab taken in one of the compounds where the shooting occurred.
Bales’ lawyers have not set out an alternative theory to the prosecution case, but have pointed out inconsistencies in testimony and highlighted incidents before the shooting in which Bales lost his temper easily, possibly setting up an argument that he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.