From our partners at The Agonist
We’ve heard a lot about what might have happened the night Sergeant Robert Bales is accused of killing 17 and wounding several others in two Afghan villages near his base, but it’s pretty much all been hearsay – reports of what people were supposedly told by witnesses. So kudos for some fine work from GlobalPost, who actually managed to track down and interview two eyewitnesses of the killings. However, they also report that the US military isn’t allowing those wounded in the attack – all receiving care at a US military base – to talk to the press.
Habibullah tried his best to describe the shooting for GlobalPost. He drew a map of the three houses in his village, Alkozai, where four people were killed. His house was in the middle. He said his wife woke him up early in the morning — he can’t recall the exact time — shouting that American soldiers were at the house next door. Habibullah told her not to worry.
“This is a night raid,” he remembered telling her.
Night raids — surprise attacks by US soldiers on houses they suspect are associated with the Taliban, are common in this volatile region. “The Americans usually pick one house to raid, and then they leave.”
But a few moments later residents from neighboring houses began fleeing to Habibullah’s, telling everyone to hide. The attacker — or attackers — soon followed, he said.
“I didn’t hear a lot of shooting and I didn’t hear helicopters,” Habibullah recalled. But he did see “two or three Americans” enter his compound, “using lights and firing at my father, who was wounded.”
…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.
After the soldier with the walkie-talkie killed her husband, she said he lingered in the doorway of her home.
“While he stood there, I secretly looked through the curtains and saw at least 20 Americans, with heavy weapons, searching all the rooms in our compound, as well as my bathroom,” she said.
After they completed their search, the men left, Massouma said. She said that all seven of her children saw the attackers, but she refused to let GlobalPost speak with them.
An Afghan journalist who went to Massouma’s home in the days after the shooting and spoke with one of her sons, aged seven, said the boy told him he looked through the curtains and saw a number of soldiers — although he couldn’t say how many.
More worryingly, however, when Afghan journalists have tried to interview those wounded in the attack, who are being treated at a US military base in Kandahar, they’ve been rebuffed.
US officials in Afghanistan gave several Afghan journalists permission last week to visit survivors of the massacre, who are being treated at the hospital at Kandahar Airfield, a major military base in southern Afghanistan. But when the journalists arrived ISAF officials only allowed them to take a few photographs and then asked them to leave.
“The wounded survivors, who saw everything of the massacre, are crucial to the story,” said one of the frustrated reporters. “But the Americans didn’t allow us to talk to them.”
Global Post’s Afghan eyewitnesses are sticking to their story that there were multiple soldiers involved, despite the preferred media narrative in the US that has Bales as the “solo rogue”. The wounded could settle the uncertainty, so why is the US military holding them incommunicado?