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November 11, 2012

Victims testify about details of massacre

NORMAN — JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. — Stories of the massacre came, one by one, over a live video link from Afghanistan into a military courtroom outside Seattle: torched bodies, a son finding his wounded father, boys cowering behind a curtain while others screamed.

As the Afghans recounted the horror that left 16 dead in the darkness early on March 11, the U.S. soldier accused of carrying out the rampage sat quietly in the courtroom.

At one point, Staff Sgt. Robert Bales moved closer to a large monitor showing the testimony. At other times, he watched as it played on a laptop screen in front of him. Either way, he gave no discernible reaction.

Speaking through an interpreter, one Afghan closed his remarks with the words: “My request is to get justice.”

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

The hearing was held overnight Friday to accommodate Afghan witnesses.

They 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.

The youngest witness was Sadiquallah, a boy of about 13 or 14. With his ears sticking out from beneath a white cap, he described being awakened screaming that an American had “killed our men.”

He said he and another boy 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.

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