Here are two versions of what happened the night of March 11, when 17 Afghan villagers were shot to death.
First, the Army version: Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, troubled by marriage woes, drunkenly left Camp Belambai, 12 miles from Kandahar, with a pistol and an automatic rifle and killed six people as they slept. Bales then returned to the base and left again for another village, this time killing 11. He acted alone and he admitted to the killings, according to the Army.
Then there is the account that child witnesses provided Yalda Hakim, a journalist for SBS Dateline in Australia. Hakim, who was born in Afghanistan and immigrated to Australia as a child, is the first international journalist to interview the surviving witnesses. She said American investigators tried to prevent her from interviewing the children, saying her questions could traumatize them. She said she appealed to village leaders, who arranged for her to interview the witnesses.
In the video, the children told Hakim that other Americans were present during the rampage, holding flashlights in the yard.
A man sits in a truck bed keeping watch over the body of a young boy. (Photo: Reuters)
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.
Bales, who was flown to a maximum-security military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kan., was charged last week with 17 counts of murder and six attempts of attempted murder.
The massacre came several days after a roadside bomb attack that cost one soldier his leg. Village residents told reporters and Afghan government officials that after the roadside bomb attack, U.S. troops lined up men from the village against a wall and told them they would pay a price. The Pentagon has denied those allegations.
Gen. Karimi, assigned by Afghan President Hamid Karzai to investigate the murders, told Hakim that he, too, wonders whether Bales acted alone and how he could left the base without notice.
“Village elders said several soldiers took part and that there is boot prints in the area,” Karimi told Hakim. He said villagers told him that they saw three or four individuals kneeling and that helicopters were overhead during the rampage.
“To search for him?” Karimi said he asked them.
“No,” he said they told him. “They were there from the very beginning.”