JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Washington (AP) — The U.S. soldier who killed 16 Afghan civilians in a solo attack on two villages last year faced more of the victims' relatives Wednesday, while his lawyers prepared to argue that he deserves a chance at parole.
Mullah Khamal Adin took the witness stand against Robert Bales, who pleaded guilty in June in a deal to avoid the death penalty.
Adin, a villager whose cousin lost 11 relatives in the attack, is one of nine Afghans from Kandahar Province flown to the U.S. for the hearing. He described arriving at his cousin's home and finding a pile of burning bodies, including young children, inside.
The March 11, 2012 massacre prompted such angry protests that the U.S. temporarily halted combat operations in Afghanistan, and it was three weeks before Army investigators could reach the crime scene.
During his plea hearing in June, Bales couldn't explain to a judge why he committed the killings. "There's not a good reason in this world for why I did the horrible things I did," he said.
He did not say he was sorry, but his lawyers hinted an apology might come at sentencing.
On Tuesday, an Afghan farmer shot during the massacre took the witness stand, cursing the soldier before breaking down.
Haji Mohammad Naim testified through an interpreter and pointed to where he was shot in the cheek and neck.
"This bastard stood right in front of me!" he said. "I wanted to ask him, 'What did I do? What have I done to you?' ... and he shot me!"
Naim, who is about 60, said he has suffered from numbness in his hand and a stutter since the shooting. He became emotional and eventually stood up: "Don't ask me any more questions!"
Naim's two sons, Sadiquallah, who is about 13, and the older Faizullah, also testified.
Sadiquallah spoke quietly, responding with a simple "yes" when asked if he cried about being shot.
Haji Wazir Mohammad, who received $550,000 in compensation from the U.S. government, told the j jury that the attacks destroyed what had been a happy life.
"I've gone through very hard times," he added. "If anybody speaks to me about the incident ... I feel the same, like it's happening right now."
Bales left his remote post in Afghanistan in the middle of the night and attacked two mud-walled villages, gunning down men, screaming children and elderly women.
Prosecutors on Tuesday offered the most detailed single account yet of the attack, describing how Bales executed a young girl who was screaming for him to stop beating her father, how he fired into rooms full of children and how he killed 11 members of a single family, many of them still asleep on their blankets.
The 39-year-old Bales was serving his fourth combat deployment when he left his outpost, attacked one village and returned to the outpost only when he realized he was low on ammunition, prosecutors said.
He then woke a fellow soldier, described his actions and said he was headed out to kill more. The other soldier didn't believe him and went back to sleep. Bales left again.
At the time, Bales had been under heavy personal, professional and financial stress, prosecutor Jay Morse said. He was upset that he had not been promoted.
"The accused felt inadequate as a soldier and as a man because of his personal, financial and professional problems," Morse said.
If he is sentenced to life with the possibility of parole, Bales would be eligible in 20 years, but there's no guarantee he would receive it.