Girl tells of Afghan gun massacre

As Robina took her seat wearing a deep red head covering and a nervous smile, she giggled as any 7-year-old in the spotlight might.

But when the questions began, she recalled how she hid behind her father when a gunman came to their village at night, how the stranger fired and her father died, cursing in pain and anger.

"I was standing behind my father," she testified by video feed from Afghanistan last night during a hearing for the soldier accused of killing 16 civilians, including nine children, in Kandahar Province.

"He shot my father," she said.

One of the bullets struck her in the leg, but she did not realise straight away.

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

The killings drew such angry protests that the US temporarily halted combat operations in Afghanistan, and it was three weeks before American investigators could reach the crime scenes.

The stories recounted so far 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."

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

Robina's friend, Zardana, now 8, also briefly testified to describe what the gunman was wearing.

She suffered a gunshot wound to the top of her head and, when she arrived at a nearby military base, the doctors thought she had no chance of surviving and treated other victims first.

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

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

The Ohio native and father of two from Lake Tapps, Washington, has not entered a plea and was not expected to testify. His lawyers 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 woken by a neighbour 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 gunman had a gun and a light, but he could not identify the man.

The other child, Rafiullah, was hit in the thigh and also survived. He testified last night 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 had done and said he was going out to kill more people. The soldier testified that he did not believe what Bales said and went back to sleep.

During cross-examination of several witnesses last night, Bales' lawyer, 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 a 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.

But other eyewitnesses reported that there was one gunman, and several soldiers have testified that Bales returned to his base at Camp Belambay just before dawn, alone and covered in blood.

A video taken from a surveillance blimp also captured a sole figure returning to the base.


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