JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. — Through a live video feed from half a world away in Afghanistan, in an extraordinary night court session, descriptions of chaos and horror poured into a military courtroom here.
Staring into the camera, Mullah Khamal Adin, 39, described the 11 members of his cousin’s family he found dead in the family compound — most of the bodies burned in a pile in one room. Adin, in a hearing that started here late Friday, was asked about the smell. Was there an odor of gasoline or kerosene? Just bodies and burned plastic, he replied through a translator.
The Army’s preliminary hearing in the case against Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians in Kandahar province this year, unfolded last week mostly in the daylight of a working military base an hour south of Seattle. But to accommodate witnesses in Afghanistan, and the 121⁄2-hour time difference, the schedule was shifted, with testimony through cameras and uplinks in Afghanistan.
The military says Bales, 39, was serving his fourth combat tour overseas when he walked away from his remote outpost in southern Afghanistan and shot and stabbed members of several families in a nighttime ambush on two villages. At least nine of the people he is accused of killing were children.
Asked to describe the injuries, another witness said: “Everybody was shot on the head. ... I didn’t pay attention to the rest of the wounds.”
The attacks, which occurred on March 11 in a deeply poor rural region while most of the victims were asleep, were the deadliest war crime attributed to a single U.S. soldier in the decade of war that has followed the 9/11 attacks.