An Afghan villager and two of his sons gave graphic testimonies today as part of a high-profile case against US Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, who stands accused of murdering 16 Afghan villagers in one of the most brutal known attacks on civilians there, reported Reuters.
Military prosecutors on Thursday announced they were seeking the death penalty against Bales on charges of drunkenly massacring a group of Afghans, nine of them children and 11 from the same family, in an Afghan village last March.
Today's hearing brought vivid testimony from the villagers, who spoke by way of a video-link from Afghanistan's Kandahar Air Field and an interpreter, said the Associated Press:
"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 'We are children! We are children!'"
Witnesses today that they had been attacked by a lone soldier, supporting the US government's stance that Bales had acted independently and with "chilling premeditation," said Reuters, noting that some villagers had earlier suggested outside the courtroom that more officers were involved.
Bales reportedly displayed no response to evidence given by the three witnesses, a father and his two young sons, as part of the fifth day of hearings at a US Army base in Washington state, said AP.
Haji Mohamed Naim, the father of nine children, said Bales "shot me right here" at one point during the five-hour shooting rampage in the village of Alkozai, reported Reuters. His son, Sadiquallah, believed to be 13 or 14 years old, said Bales "came after me" but he managed to hide.
The case marks one of the worst known atrocities committed by US forces in Afghanistan, according to AP, bringing condemnation from Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who told CNN on behalf of the nation Monday "we would like the court in the United States to implement justice and punish him according to the crime."
The hearings are meant to establish whether or not there is enough evidence to court-martial Bales, who is charged with 16 counts of murder and six of attempted murder, among other offenses, reported Reuters. Karzai earlier criticized the US for not pursuing the case aggressively enough.
Lawyers representing 39-year-old Bales, a father of two from Ohio, have not yet presented their full defense, said Reuters.