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Witnesses to Afghan massacre recount chilling scene

Villagers who witnessed a massacre in southern Afghanistan that killed 17 civilians, including children, describe a chilling scene of screaming, gunfire and barking dogs in which a woman cried that her husband had been shot.

In one of the few published interviews with witnesses to the massacre, a 14-year-old boy told McClatchy newspaper reporter Jon Stephenson that sounds of gunfire woke him in the early morning hours of March 11. The boy said saw a man with a weapon walk into a shed next to his house and shoot a cow.

“I told the women inside our room: ‘Let’s run! Let’s get out of here,’” Rafiullah, who goes by one name, told the reporter.


Another apparent witness, Haji Mohammad Naim, said he awoke to barking dogs.

“Then there was shooting, and the dogs stopped barking,” said Naim, reported to be in his 50s.

A short time later, according to Stephenson's report, several frightened women and children entered Naim's yard in search of shelter. Moments later, a woman and young girl emerged, the woman screaming, "My husband has been martyred." 

Naim said he was expecting a squad of soldiers but saw only one man, who he said started shooting at him.

U.S. officials have charged Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales with 17 counts of murder and six counts of attempted murder for the killings. The 38-year-old father of two, who was deployed three times to Iraq before going to Afghanistan, is in a solitary cell in the military prison at Leavenworth, Kansas, while he awaits trial.

Since the massacre, few independent accounts of the shooting have been reported. Other witnesses have said they saw more than one soldier that night.

An 8-year-old Afghan boy who was wounded, Noorbinak, told Australian reporter Yalda Hakim that a man first shot his father’s dog and then shot his father and dragged his mother by her hair. He said one man entered the room and others were standing in the yard holding lights.

The brother of a victim was quoted as also also seeing other soldiers.

Emma Scanlan, an attorney with the law firm John Henry Browne and Associates that is defending Bales, told on Thursday that the Army has denied defense attorneys access to hospitalized witnesses in Afghanistan and stopped them from accompanying crimes scene investigators to the villages.

“The defense investigation has been blocked at every turn and we have no idea what has been said or promised to these witnesses,” Scanlan said. “It is important to remember that the information we do have indicates that no one who was allegedly in the villages at the time of the shooting can identify our client.”

Army officials have emphasized that Bales acted alone. The case remains in a sort of legal limbo over the question of Bales’s mental capacity. Browne has told his client not to take part in the Army’s “sanity board,” in which he is questioned by psychologists, calling it a “fishing expedition.”

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