Until Afghan witnesses are able to testify for themselves on Friday, a U.S. Army medic spoke on their behalf this week of the bloody aftermath of a warzone massacre.
Maj. Travis Hawks told a military court in Washington state on Wednesday afternoon of the children he had to treat for severe gunshot wounds, according to the NewsTribune.com. He was serving as the top surgeon for the unit stationed at Operating Base Zangabad in southern Afghanistan in March when Staff Sgt. Robert Bales is alleged to have left his base and launched a killing spree in a nearby village.
The Washington Post reports Afghan witnesses will begin live testimony via video Friday night to accommodate the time difference.
Bales is accused of leaving that base in the early morning hours of March 11 and killing 16 Afghan civilians at Alkozai and Najiban—two villages within a half mile of the remote base. The so-called Article 32 hearing at Joint Base Lewis-McChord outside Tacoma, which began on Monday, will determine if the case will proceed to a court martial.
Hawks reported the victims, many of them children, had gunshot wounds to the head, neck and legs, reports the News Tribune. One young woman would not let doctors touch her below the waist, though they later found wounds in her buttocks and groin.
Cultural divides are among the many facets that complicated this case. Investigators have had difficulty speaking with some victims because Afghans often forbid women from speaking to other men.
The locals were so enraged by the killings that security concerns prevented U.S. authorities from searching the village for three weeks, according to a CNN.com report.
It took 20 days for Matthew Hoffman, an Army Criminal Investigation Command special agent, to negotiate with local leaders to allow the officials to enter the village, he said at the hearing. The Army still deployed two overwatch helicopters, as well as U.S. and Afghan troops, to provide security during the investigation, says CNN.
Hoffman found 9mm shells at the site, he says, but Afghan troops had collected much of the evidence the day after the killings.
Another investigator testified on Wednesday that she had found steroids hidden near Bales quarters, CNN reports. Defense attorneys say this will be a key factor in defending Bales.
At least one of Bales' superiors described him as one of the unit's best soldiers and was given some of the unit's most difficult assignments.
"I was trying to groom him to make that next step," 1st Sgt. Vernon Bigham said, according to the News Tribune. "I thought he was very capable."
Bigham considered Bales an "old school" noncommissioned officer, known for keeping his troops focused, and attached him to a Special Forces Team at Village Stability Platform Belam-bay, Bigham said at the hearing.
When he was initially taken into custody, Bales seemed remorseful and apparently wanted to confess, but Bigham discouraged it, according to his testimony.
"He invoked his rights, so I didn't want him to talk about those things to me," NBC News reports him as saying.
Bales is charged with 16 counts of murder and six counts of assault. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
The defense has not yet revealed their strategy, but have indicated that Bales may not have acted alone and was suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder at the time of the massacre.
Bales' wife Karilyn has constantly maintained that her husband could not have committed the massacre of which he is accused. Learn more about Bales background and details from his wife here.
- Gallery: Deadly Earthquake Devastates Guatemala
- The President's Picks: Who Will Lead Obama's New National Security Team?
- Leaders' Reactions to U.S. Elections Shows Increasingly Complicated World
Paul D. Shinkman is a national security reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow him on Twitter or reach him at email@example.com