The Pentagon has disputed a contention by Robert Bales' attorney that his client was "upset" over a friend losing a leg to a roadside bomb, in the days prior to his alleged massacre of 17 people, including women and children, in two villages nearly two miles apart in Afghanistan. The Pentagon has asserted that there was no such bombing. AP has reported that Afghan officials and villagers say that immediately after an IED attack, US soldiers rounded up locals and promised that there would be retaliation, including the killing of children. The AP reported:
"KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) — Several Afghans near the villages where an American soldier is alleged to have killed 16 civilians say U.S. troops lined them up against a wall after a roadside bombing and told them that they, and even their children, would pay a price for the attack."
The number of dead has been updated to 17 to include the fetus of a pregnant woman. Also among the dead was a two-year-old. Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. John Kirby said US officials have no record of such an IED attack. The NZ Herald reported that on March 22, Capt. Kirby said:
"What I can tell you now is that we don't have any indication that either the attack that's being described occurred, and certainly no evidence that there were any threats of retaliation by US soldiers..."
"In Washington, the Pentagon disputed a claim by villagers that there was a roadside bombing the day before the shooting attack, wounding some soldiers, and the shooting spree was retaliation. A Pentagon spokesman, Navy Capt. John Kirby, told reporters that U.S. officials had no indication that such a bombing happened..."
The Pentagon thus denies the existence of an American soldier recovering from the loss of a leg in Mokhoyan, where the bombing allegedly occurred, and where reporters from different media outlets acknowledge seeing a bomb crater in the road. American casualty reports from the Pentagon, at the time of writing, tally only fatalities, and do not include wounded by province. The name of the alleged wounded man is still unknown.
KKTV Southern Colorado said:
"Staff Sgt. Robert Bales met with his attorney, John Henry Browne, for the first time Monday. The meeting, which Browne described as one of the most emotional of his life, lasted three and a half hours....During the meeting, Browne said Bales confirmed a story first recounted by Bales' family, that a friend's leg had been blown off by a roadside bomb. Bales' clarified that it happened two days prior to the Afghan shootings."
"Browne said another soldier at the small outpost in southern Afghanistan had been gravely wounded the day before the massacre, and that other soldiers were deeply affected by it."
An April 4 McClatchy report, which sought to downplay emerging eyewitness testimony of multiple shooters in what resembled a night raid, acknowledged that a bomb crater had been shown to multiple reporters near one of the villages, Najiban:
"A few journalists were taken the short distance to a nearby house at Najiban, where at least 11 of the victims were shot and stabbed. The mood inside was tense. On the way they passed a massive hole in the road. Villagers and Afghan officials have told reporters that this was the site of a homemade bomb blast that struck a U.S. armored vehicle a day or two prior to the slaughter. They have also said that, prior to the killings, U.S. military personnel had threatened Najiban residents with retaliation for the bomb attack. U.S. officials later said they had no record of either incident."
"One Mokhoyan resident, Ahmad Shah Khan, told The Associated Press that after the bombing, U.S. soldiers and their Afghan army counterparts arrived in his village and made many of the male villagers stand against a wall.
"It looked like they were going to shoot us, and I was very afraid," Khan said. "Then a NATO soldier said through his translator that even our children will pay for this. Now they have done it and taken their revenge."
Neighbors of Khan gave similar accounts to the AP, and several Afghan officials, including Kandahar lawmaker Abdul Rahim Ayubi, said people in the two villages that were attacked told them the same story.
Mohammad Sarwar Usmani, one of several lawmakers who went to the area, said the Afghan National Army had confirmed to him that an explosion occurred near Mokhoyan on March 8.
On March 13, Afghan soldier Abdul Salam showed an AP reporter the site of a blast that made a large crater in the road in Panjwai district of Kandahar province, where the shootings occurred. The soldier said the explosion occurred March 8. Salam said he helped gather men in the village, and that troops spoke to them, but he was not close enough to hear what they said.
Ghulam Rasool, a tribal elder from Panjwai district of Kandahar province, where the shootings occurred, gave an account of the bombing at a March 16 meeting in Kabul with President Hamid Karzai.
"After the incident, they took the wreckage of their destroyed tank and their wounded people from the area," Rasool said. "After that, they came back to the village nearby the explosion site.
"The soldiers called all the people to come out of their houses and from the mosque," he said.
"The Americans told the villagers, 'A bomb exploded on our vehicle. ... We will get revenge for this incident by killing at least 20 of your people,""
Reports of Afghan officials disputing claims of multiple shooters focus mainly on two officials: the governor of the province, and a police chief. The provincial governor told AP on March 21: "I personally met many different people there, but I never found a single person who personally saw a number of foreign troops."
The March 21 AP report says of the police chief:
"Sardar Mohammad Nazari, chief of police for Panjwai district, also said that he never found one person who had seen a group of foreign troops with their own eyes. U.S. officials launched a search party after the alleged shooter, Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, went missing, and the Afghans could have confused the searchers for assailants."
Echoing this theme McClatchy said on April 11:
"Dutch journalist Bette Dam, who spent a week in Kandahar investigating the killings, told McClatchy that "most of these accounts were coming from people who weren't actually there or from people who were in the area but didn't actually see the attack."
But on March 29, MSNBC broadcast an interview by a western reporter of several eyewitnesses, including children, who referred repeatedly to multiple shooters with flashlights on their helmets, and weapon lights (night raid flashlights which clip to the end of rifle barrels):
""the children told [Yalda Hakim, a journalist for SBS Dateline in Australia] that other Americans were present during the rampage, holding flashlights in the yard.
Noorbinak, 8, told Hakim that the shooter first shot her father’s dog. Then, Noorbinak said in the video, he shot her father in the foot and dragged her mother by the hair. When her father started screaming, he shot her father, the child says. Then he turned the gun on Noorbinak and shot her in the leg.
“One man entered the room and the others were standing in the yard, holding lights,” Noorbinak said in the video.
A brother of one victim told Hakim that his brother’s children mentioned more than one soldier wearing a headlamp. They also had lights at the end of their guns, he said.
“They don’t know whether there were 15 or 20, however many there were,” he said in the video.
Army officials have repeatedly denied that others were involved in the massacre, emphasizing that Bales acted alone."
In a CNN video, one man says: “They took him my uncle out of the room and shot him...They came to this room and martyred all the children.”
Other witnesses pointed out a place outside the home, where they said they found footprints of more than one U.S. soldier.
The Global Post, (a project of long-time Boston Globe journalist Charles Sennott,) reached an eyewitness by telephone and reported:
"Massouma, who lives in the neighboring village of Najiban, where 12 people were killed, said she heard helicopters fly overhead as a uniformed soldier entered her home. She said he flashed a “big, white light,” and yelled, “Taliban! Taliban! Taliban!”
Massouma said the soldier shouted “walkie-talkie, walkie-talkie.” The rules of engagement in hostile areas in Afghanistan permit US soldiers to shoot Afghans holding walkie-talkies because they could be Taliban spotters.
“He had a radio antenna on his shoulder. He had a walkie-talkie himself, and he was speaking into it,” she said."
Contradicting repeated statements in news reports that villagers could have confused multiple men with flashlights with the search party for Bales are reports that Bales was found right outside the base compound, and that the search party never left the area of the base.
The NY Times quoted Afghan Gen. Abdul Hameed, the corps commander for the Afghan National Army in Kandahar:
"When American commanders became aware that a soldier was missing, they first checked sleeping quarters, toilets and the kitchen area before organizing a patrol to look outside the compound, General Hameed said. But before the patrol left, a high-powered infrared camera on a small blimp spotted Sergeant Bales nearby."
"About 3:30 a.m., the official said, a surveillance camera spotted Bales returning to the base, and the search team found him just outside the compound."
3:30 a.m. corresponds to about the time that, according to the Pentagon's most recent account, Bales was first reported missing from the base by an Afghan guard.
Bales' attorney accuses the Pentagon of denying the defense team access to five surviving wounded eyewitnesses. The attorney, John Henry Browne, said in a statement:
"We are facing an almost complete information blackout from the government, which is having a devastating effect on our ability to investigate the charges preferred against our client...When we tried to interview the injured civilians being treated at Kandahar Hospital we were denied access and told to coordinate with the prosecution team. The next day the prosecution team interviewed the civilian injured. We found out shortly after the prosecution interviews of the injured civilians that the civilians were all released from the hospital and there was no contact information for them,"
Bales' attorney told the LA Times:
“People on our staff in Afghanistan went to the hospital where there supposedly were eyewitnesses to this … and we were told by the prosecutors to come back the next day, which is fine. We went back the next day, and they’d all been released from the hospital and they’d all been scattered throughout Afghanistan. That was a violation of the trust we had in the prosecutors,”...“They were promised to be there, and they were not,” he said, adding that there isn't much hope of finding the witnesses now. “People just disappear into the Afghan countryside.”"
Many victims of the rampage were not only shot, but stabbed as well. The McClatchy April 4 report states:
"A few journalists were taken the short distance to a nearby house at Najiban, where at least 11 of the victims were shot and stabbed."
Bales' unit, the 2nd Infantry Division, is the same unit out of Ft. Lewis-McChord in Washington state from which the infamous killings of Afghans for "sport" emanated last year, in which a number of soldiers were prosecuted, the Maywand District Murders. It is the most troubled base in the US military, according to statistics on soldier suicides and violence.
MSNBC Broadcast of Dateline SBC interviews with child witnesses