Afghans recall US soldier's killing rampage

Updated May 17, 2013 06:41pm
Three girls play hide and seek at their home on the outskirts of Kandahar, Afghanistan on Saturday, April 20, 2013. In an interview, their aunt, Masooma, recounted the events of a pre-dawn attack last year when a U.S. soldier rampaged through two villages killing 16 people, including her husband.  — AP Photo.
Three girls play hide and seek at their home on the outskirts of Kandahar, Afghanistan on Saturday, April 20, 2013. In an interview, their aunt, Masooma, recounted the events of a pre-dawn attack last year when a U.S. soldier rampaged through two villages killing 16 people, including her husband. — AP Photo.
A girl plays at her home on the outskirts of Kandahar, Afghanistan on Saturday, April 20, 2013. In an interview, her aunt, Masooma, recounted the events of a pre-dawn attack last year when she says a U.S. soldier rampaged through two villages killing 16 people, including her husband.  — AP Photo.
A girl plays at her home on the outskirts of Kandahar, Afghanistan on Saturday, April 20, 2013. In an interview, her aunt, Masooma, recounted the events of a pre-dawn attack last year when she says a U.S. soldier rampaged through two villages killing 16 people, including her husband. — AP Photo.
Mohammed Wazir sits with his only surviving son, Habib Shahin, 3, in Kandahar, Afghanistan on Monday, April 22, 2013 as he talks about the events of March 11, 2012 when a U.S. soldier burst into his family's home. Wazir returned to his home that morning to find 11 members of his family dead, their bodies partially burned. The youngest among the dead was his 1-year-old daughter Palawan Shah. — AP Photo.
Mohammed Wazir sits with his only surviving son, Habib Shahin, 3, in Kandahar, Afghanistan on Monday, April 22, 2013 as he talks about the events of March 11, 2012 when a U.S. soldier burst into his family's home. Wazir returned to his home that morning to find 11 members of his family dead, their bodies partially burned. The youngest among the dead was his 1-year-old daughter Palawan Shah. — AP Photo.
Mohammed Wazir, left, and his only surviving son, Habib Shahin show pictures or their slain relatives during an interview in Kandahar, Afghanistan on Monday, April 22, 2013. On March 11, 2012, a U.S. soldier burst into their home, and Wazir returned hours later to find 11 members of his family dead, their bodies partially burned. The youngest among the dead was his 1-year-old daughter Palawan Shah.  — AP Photo.
Mohammed Wazir, left, and his only surviving son, Habib Shahin show pictures or their slain relatives during an interview in Kandahar, Afghanistan on Monday, April 22, 2013. On March 11, 2012, a U.S. soldier burst into their home, and Wazir returned hours later to find 11 members of his family dead, their bodies partially burned. The youngest among the dead was his 1-year-old daughter Palawan Shah. — AP Photo.
Zardana, 11, sits as she talks in Kandahar, Afghanistan on Monday, April 22, 2013 about a pre-dawn last year when a U.S. soldier burst into her family's home. Zardana said her visiting cousin saw the soldier chasing them and ran to help, but he was shot and killed. “We couldn't stop. We just wanted somewhere to hide. I was holding on to my grandmother and we ran to our neighbors."  — AP Photo.
Zardana, 11, sits as she talks in Kandahar, Afghanistan on Monday, April 22, 2013 about a pre-dawn last year when a U.S. soldier burst into her family's home. Zardana said her visiting cousin saw the soldier chasing them and ran to help, but he was shot and killed. “We couldn't stop. We just wanted somewhere to hide. I was holding on to my grandmother and we ran to our neighbors." — AP Photo.
This Saturday, April 20, 2013 photo shows 8-year-old son, Hikmatullah, in Kandahar, Afghanistan. He said he remembers the sight of the attacker in full military uniform. “I was so afraid. I pretended I was asleep.” His mother, Masooma, said the soldier found him and punched him repeatedly in the head.  — AP Photo.
This Saturday, April 20, 2013 photo shows 8-year-old son, Hikmatullah, in Kandahar, Afghanistan. He said he remembers the sight of the attacker in full military uniform. “I was so afraid. I pretended I was asleep.” His mother, Masooma, said the soldier found him and punched him repeatedly in the head. — AP Photo.
Eleven-year-old Zardana, is helped with her sandals by her father Samiullah after an interview in Kandahar, Afghanistan on Monday, April 22, 2013. She recounted the night of March 11, 2012 when a U.S. soldier attacked their family home, shooting her in the head and killing 11 relatives. She suffered nerve damage on her left side and has to walk with a cane. Her hand is too weak to hold anything heavy.  — AP Photo.
Eleven-year-old Zardana, is helped with her sandals by her father Samiullah after an interview in Kandahar, Afghanistan on Monday, April 22, 2013. She recounted the night of March 11, 2012 when a U.S. soldier attacked their family home, shooting her in the head and killing 11 relatives. She suffered nerve damage on her left side and has to walk with a cane. Her hand is too weak to hold anything heavy. — AP Photo.
Mohammed Wazir talks in Kandahar, Afghanistan on Monday, April 22, 2013 about the night of March 11, 2012 when he says a U.S. soldier burst into his family home. Wazir said he returned home from a trip the morning after the attack to find 11 members of his family dead - his wife, his mother, two brothers, a 13-year-old nephew and his six children. Their bodies were partially burned.  — AP Photo.
Mohammed Wazir talks in Kandahar, Afghanistan on Monday, April 22, 2013 about the night of March 11, 2012 when he says a U.S. soldier burst into his family home. Wazir said he returned home from a trip the morning after the attack to find 11 members of his family dead - his wife, his mother, two brothers, a 13-year-old nephew and his six children. Their bodies were partially burned. — AP Photo.
Masooma's son, Naseebullah, fourth from left, plays with his sisters and cousins at their home on the outskirts of Kandahar, Afghanistan on Saturday, April 20, 2013. In an interview, his mother recounted the events of pre-dawn March 11, 2012 when she says a U.S. soldier rampaged through two villages killing 16 people, including Naseebullah's father.  — AP Photo.
Masooma's son, Naseebullah, fourth from left, plays with his sisters and cousins at their home on the outskirts of Kandahar, Afghanistan on Saturday, April 20, 2013. In an interview, his mother recounted the events of pre-dawn March 11, 2012 when she says a U.S. soldier rampaged through two villages killing 16 people, including Naseebullah's father. — AP Photo.
This Saturday, April 20, 2013 photo shows Masooma's son Hazratullah, center, with his two sisters at their home on the outskirts of Kandahar, Afghanistan. Masooma says a U.S. soldier rampaged through Masooma's home on March 11, 2012, killing her husband and shoving the muzzle of a pistol in the mouth of her infant son, Hazratullah.  — AP Photo.
This Saturday, April 20, 2013 photo shows Masooma's son Hazratullah, center, with his two sisters at their home on the outskirts of Kandahar, Afghanistan. Masooma says a U.S. soldier rampaged through Masooma's home on March 11, 2012, killing her husband and shoving the muzzle of a pistol in the mouth of her infant son, Hazratullah. — AP Photo.
Masooma's son's Naseebullah, left, and Azatullah sit together in the outskirts of Kandahar, Afghanistan on Saturday, April 20, 2013. In an interview, their mother recounted the events of pre-dawn March 11, 2012 when she says a U.S. soldier rampaged through two villages killing 16 people, including their father.  — AP Photo.
Masooma's son's Naseebullah, left, and Azatullah sit together in the outskirts of Kandahar, Afghanistan on Saturday, April 20, 2013. In an interview, their mother recounted the events of pre-dawn March 11, 2012 when she says a U.S. soldier rampaged through two villages killing 16 people, including their father. — AP Photo.
Masooma sits with her children at her brother-in-law's house on the outskirts of Kandahar, Afghanistan on Saturday, April 20, 2013. In an interview, Masooma recounted the events of pre-dawn March 11, 2012 when she says a U.S. soldier rampaged through two villages killing 16 people, including her husband.  — AP Photo.
Masooma sits with her children at her brother-in-law's house on the outskirts of Kandahar, Afghanistan on Saturday, April 20, 2013. In an interview, Masooma recounted the events of pre-dawn March 11, 2012 when she says a U.S. soldier rampaged through two villages killing 16 people, including her husband. — AP Photo.
Rafiullah, 16, talks in Kandahar, Afghanistan on Sunday, April 21, 2013 about a pre-dawn attack in southern Afghanistan last year, when he says a U.S. soldier burst into his family's house. Rafiullah remembers the soldier smashing through the door waving his pistol. Awakened in a room with his grandmother and his sister, Zardana, Rafiullah said they didn't know what to do. “We just ran and he ran after us.”  — AP Photo.
Rafiullah, 16, talks in Kandahar, Afghanistan on Sunday, April 21, 2013 about a pre-dawn attack in southern Afghanistan last year, when he says a U.S. soldier burst into his family's house. Rafiullah remembers the soldier smashing through the door waving his pistol. Awakened in a room with his grandmother and his sister, Zardana, Rafiullah said they didn't know what to do. “We just ran and he ran after us.” — AP Photo.
Masooma's son, Naseebullah, left, plays with his siblings and cousins at their home in the outskirts of Kandahar, Afghanistan on Saturday, April 20, 2013. In an interview, his mother recounted the events of pre-dawn March 11, 2012 when she says a U.S. soldier rampaged through two villages killing 16 people, including her husband.  — AP Photo.
Masooma's son, Naseebullah, left, plays with his siblings and cousins at their home in the outskirts of Kandahar, Afghanistan on Saturday, April 20, 2013. In an interview, his mother recounted the events of pre-dawn March 11, 2012 when she says a U.S. soldier rampaged through two villages killing 16 people, including her husband. — AP Photo.
Shahara, now 3, sits tucked inside the shawl of her mother, Masooma, in Kandahar, Afghanistan, on Saturday, April 20, 2013 as Masooma recalls the night she says a U.S. soldier killed her husband and attacked her children in a southern Afghanistan village. Masooma says the soldier grabbed Shahara's pony tails and shook her head violently after killing her father.  — AP Photo.
Shahara, now 3, sits tucked inside the shawl of her mother, Masooma, in Kandahar, Afghanistan, on Saturday, April 20, 2013 as Masooma recalls the night she says a U.S. soldier killed her husband and attacked her children in a southern Afghanistan village. Masooma says the soldier grabbed Shahara's pony tails and shook her head violently after killing her father. — AP Photo.

KANDAHAR: Sitting on a dirty straw mat on the parched ground of southern Afghanistan, Masooma sank deeper inside a giant black shawl. Hidden from view, her words burst forth as she told her side of what happened to her family sometime before dawn on March 11, 2012.

According to Masooma, an American soldier wearing a helmet equipped with a flashlight burst into her two-room mud home while everyone slept. He killed her husband, Dawood, punched her 7-year-old son and shoved a pistol into the mouth of his baby brother.

''We were asleep. He came in and he was shouting, saying something about Taliban, Taliban, and then he pulled my husband up. I screamed and screamed and said, 'We are not Taliban, we are not government. We are no one. Please don't hurt us,''' she said.

The soldier wasn't listening. He pointed his pistol at Masooma to quiet her and pushed her husband into the living room. ''My husband just looked back at me and said, 'I will be back.''' Seconds later she heard gunshots, she recalled, her voice cracking as she was momentarily unable to speak. Her husband was dead.

Masooma, who like many Afghans uses only one name, defied tribal traditions that prohibit women from speaking to strangers to talk to The Associated Press while – half a world away – the military prepares to court-martial a US serviceman in the killing of her husband and 15 other Afghan civilians, mainly women and children.

The AP also interviewed other villagers about the case, all of whom are identified by the US Army as witnesses or relatives of witnesses. They included a sister and brother who were wounded and two men who were away during the killings and returned to find wives and children slain. The sister and brother told AP how they tried to run away and hide from a soldier with a gun, only to be shot – and see their neighbors and grandmother killed.

US Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales of Lake Tapps, Washington, is accused of the killings. Prosecutors say Bales slipped away from his remote outpost to attack two nearby villages, returning in the middle of the rampage and then for a final time soaked in blood. During a hearing last fall, other soldiers testified that Bales spent the evening before the massacre watching a movie about revenge killings, sharing contraband whiskey from a plastic bottle and discussing an attack that cost one of their comrades his leg.

Bales has not entered a plea, but his lawyers have not disputed his involvement in the killings. They have said his mental health may be part of his defense; he was on his fourth combat deployment and had suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder as well as a concussive head injury while serving in Iraq. The Army is seeking the death penalty.

The killings took place in Kandahar's Panjwai district, deep in the ethnic Pashtun heartland that spawned the Taliban movement, an area where women are hidden inside all-enveloping burqas and rarely leave their homes. Masooma's account of the night has been reported variously over the past year, differing over details such as whether there was one or more than one US soldier involved. However, the four hours she recently spent with the AP was her first face-to-face interview with a news organization. She spoke as her burly brother-in-law Baraan loomed nearby.

The interview took place outside Baraan's single-story mud home in Kandahar city, because Alokzai and Najiban villages, where the killings occurred, are too hostile for foreigners to visit. Even in Kandahar, some 150 kilometers away, the AP journalists sought to avoid being seen by Baraan's neighbors, who he feared would react negatively to their presence.

Masooma said that the soldier returned to the family's bedroom after killing her husband. She stood in terror. Her children hid under their blankets. The soldier moved slowly and seemed angry. Gesturing to show how he hit her in the arms and shoved her to the ground, Masooma said he then moved toward her son Hikmatullah, then 7. Her son said he remembers the sight of the attacker in full military uniform. ''I was so afraid. I pretended I was asleep,'' he said.

Masooma said the soldier found Hikmatullah and punched him repeatedly in the head. She said the soldier then found her two-year-old daughter, Shahara. He grabbed her pigtails and violently shook her head back and forth.

He then went to the crying baby Hazratullah and shoved the muzzle of his black pistol into the infant's mouth, she said.

''He just held it there in his mouth. I screamed and screamed, 'He is just a baby. Don't kill him. Don't kill him.' But he just kept the gun in his mouth. He didn't say anything. He just stared at him,'' she recalled. As she recounted the attack, Hazratullah fussed and squirmed beneath the giant shawl that enveloped her. After some time, she said, the soldier took the gun from the baby's mouth and walked back into the living room.

Masooma dug her bare foot into the dirt to demonstrate how the soldier slipped his foot beneath her husband's head to lift it from the floor, as if to be sure he was really dead. The soldier looked down at her husband, shrugged his shoulders and returned to searching her home. After he finished rifling through their belongings, he left.

Investigators say Bales was armed with a 9 mm pistol and an M-4 rifle outfitted with a grenade launcher when he walked off his base and went on a nighttime killing spree in five homes, including Masooma's. He faces 16 counts of premeditated murder; six counts of attempted murder; seven counts of assault; and one count each of possessing steroids, using steroids, destroying a laptop, burning bodies, and using alcohol. He is being held in a military prison at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, south of Seattle in Washington state.

On April 23, Bales appeared in a military courtroom at Joint Base Lewis-McChord for a hearing that focused on what might happen if he is convicted, including which relatives and friends could speak on his behalf during a sentencing hearing. Such testimony could help determine whether he receives the death penalty.

The US government flew Baraan and five other Afghan men — all members of families who were attacked — to Seattle to familiarize them with the U.S. judicial system and notify them that they would likely have to return when the court-martial begins in September. Only three of those who went to the U.S. in March said they saw the attack. Some, like Baraan, went on behalf of relatives who were slain or women prevented from traveling.

None of the Afghan witnesses was able to identify Bales as the attacker, but other evidence, including tests of the blood on his clothes, implicated him, according to testimony from a DNA expert.

The AP also spoke with several others who survived the attack or lost family members. To avoid putting the Afghans in danger should they be seen talking to foreigners, the AP arranged for those interviews to take place at a nondescript hotel in Kandahar. The Afghans drove the dusty, dangerous road from their villages to the hotel and then returned home. Said Jan, an elderly man who was visiting Kandahar during the attack and lost his wife and three other family members, said he went to the United States expecting justice.

"I thought we were going to America to see him hanged," Said Jan said. "Instead they showed us a courtroom and kept us in rooms asking us more and more questions." Said Jan said he wasn't interested in returning for the trial. "None of us will go," agreed Mohammed Wazir, who also went to the US in March. "Why would we care about seeing America? We will only go if he is hanged."

Wazir said he returned home from a trip the morning after the attack to find 11 members of his family dead — his wife, his mother, two brothers, a 13-year-old nephew and his six children. Their bodies were partially burned. He was left only with his 3-year-old son, Habib Shah, who had accompanied him on the trip to Spin Boldak, a town on the Pakistani border.

While Wazir spoke of the horror of finding his home spattered with blood, still smelling of burned flesh, Habib, now 4, played by his side, chewing on his toy police car, occasionally running it across his father's legs, loading small candies on the roof and giggling when they tumbled off.

"He misses his mother all the time," Wazir said, trying to straighten Habib's curly brown hair.

From another home that was attacked that night, 16-year-old Rafiullah remembers the American soldier smashing through the door waving his pistol. Awakened in a small room with his grandmother and his sister Zardana, he said he didn't know what to do. "We just ran and he ran after us."

Zardana, 11, said a cousin dashed over to help. He was shot and killed, she said. "We couldn't stop. We just wanted somewhere to hide. I was holding on to my grandmother and we ran to our neighbors." Their neighbor, Naim, came out of his house to see what the noise was all about and was shot and wounded. His daughter then ran to him but was killed by the American soldier, Zardana said, struggling to remember and fiddling with her green scarf decorated with tiny sequins.

Zardana, who said she saw soldiers in a nearby field as she ran from one house to the next, remembers trying to hide behind her grandmother at the neighbor's house. But the soldier found them. Gesturing with his hand as if spraying the room with gunfire, Rafiullah said the soldier "just went bang, bang, bang."

Rafiullah was wounded in both his legs, his grandmother was killed and Zardana was shot in the head. She removed her scarf to show where the wound had healed; the effects will last a lifetime. She suffered nerve damage on her left side and has to walk with a cane. Her hand is too weak to hold anything heavy.

Zardana spent about two months recovering at the Kandahar Air Base hospital and three more at a naval hospital in San Diego receiving rehabilitation therapy, accompanied by her father, Samiullah. Listening as she spoke, Samiullah smiled at his lanky daughter, encouraging her to say the only English phrase she knows: "Thank you."

Zardana spoke of her treatment in San Diego and the doctors and nurses who helped her learn to walk again, gave her toys and still find ways to stay in touch.

"They showed me so much love," she said with a tiny smile. "They asked me about what happened and when I told them how my grandmother died and how afraid I was and how I was shot, they cried and cried."

The accounts of many villagers have varied over the past year, making it a challenge for investigators and journalists to find out a full narrative of the attack.

For example, Masooma gave an telephone interview to a reporter days after the attack, with Baraan, her brother-in-law, acting as a translator. According to the resulting story, she described a single attacker in her home, but said she saw many soldiers outside.

Three months later, her family allowed a female Army investigator to question her. The investigator testified at a hearing last fall that Masooma clearly stated two soldiers carried out the attack. The investigator said she had no reason to doubt Masooma's credibility.

At the same hearing, Baraan testified, insisting Masooma was mistaken when she said there were two soldiers. Lawyers for the soldier accused in the killings suggested Baraan might be influencing Masooma — especially since the defense was not allowed to speak with her.

No physical evidence has emerged to suggest more than one soldier took part in the killings. Surveillance footage from the base showed one soldier returning to the camp; the soldiers who greeted him said he was covered in blood. Nevertheless, many Afghans villagers, including some eyewitnesses, continue to insist multiple soldiers were present during the attack.

In the interview with the AP, Masooma did not waver in her insistence that one soldier attacked her home, and Baraan denied that she ever reported seeing many soldiers outside. Masooma did recall flares lighting the sky until "night seemed like day" — which is consistent with testimony from the hearing, as guards said they fired a flare that illuminated the sky for 20 seconds after hearing gunshots. Masooma also said she heard helicopters overhead; there was no corroborating testimony at the hearing.

Masooma is absolutely certain of one thing: what it will take for her to find closure. "I just want to see him killed," she said of Bales. "I want to see him dead. Then I can let go."


Do you have information you wish to share with Dawn.com? You can email our News Desk to share news tips, reports and general feedback. You can also email the Blog Desk if you have an opinion or narrative to share, or reach out to the Special Projects Desk to send us your Photos, or Videos.

More From This Section

Comments (9) Closed




a
May 17, 2013 08:04pm

Now lets see this WHOLE article published in an American newspaper. I bet my life that it will never happen. By the way, why is this soldier still kept alive? Is it because he killed innocent afghan civilians and not innocent american civilians?

bluefunk
May 18, 2013 10:05am

"Some, like Baraan, went on behalf of relatives who were slain or women prevented from traveling." -- This is quite unbelievable. Actual witnesses barred from attending the trial of someone who coldbloodedly murdered their closest family members, and random people from the village sent instead?

tanh
May 18, 2013 11:45am

@a: It is an AP article so of course it will be printed by major US media. The reason this person is alive is because they have laws in the US to prosecute and punish people for their crimes. And unlike in Pakistan, they do let the law take its course.

samy
May 18, 2013 06:02pm

Sad people who have nothing to do with 9/11 and the people who actually given their lives for the prosperity,west enjoys today from the clutches of communism, are suffering, humiliated and getting slaughter after what they have given to whole of so called ungrateful civilized western world.

Salim Akbani
May 18, 2013 06:46pm

This is what happens when you allow your country to be invaded by and controlled by barbarians. This man was no different than the Taliban who are killing innocent women and children nearly everyday on both sides of the border.

human
May 18, 2013 07:50pm

Brave American soldiers protecting Afghans.....Above comment is so True you will never See a segment on cnn about this

SKK
May 19, 2013 04:13am

@a: Of Course. Only other people are terrorists. White Americans who kill civilians are "mentally ill."

Syed
May 19, 2013 12:30pm

Humanity weeps. but this is happennig. since. Kurbala. May Allah. The merciful. Give the strength to tolerate. Amen

Fair Khan
May 19, 2013 12:32pm

Its clear that US & allies lost this war terribly. They're now inviting Taliban to participate in Afghani politics. If you see documentaries like "Is this what winning looks like" you'll realize that Taliban govt. was much better for Afghanistan than the current political system and that's something the NATO personals also admit. Of course Taliban were backward; they didn't allow any modern education, but yet they weren't corrupt, they didn't molest kids and they didn't allow public use of drugs. Afghanistan needs a strong reformation and without education its impossible. In future I see Taliban taking over the Afghanistan again. I wish this time they realize their mistake and allow modern education for both, men and women.