Sentencing Begins For Sgt. Who Killed 16 Afghan Civilians
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
To Joint Base Lewis-McChord now in Washington state, there a military jury is hearing testimony in the sentencing phase of the court martial of Sergeant Robert Bales. Bales has admitted to killing 16 civilians during a nighttime massacre in Afghanistan. He's already pleaded guilty in a deal to avoid the death penalty. Now, a jury will decide whether his life sentence will come with the possibility of parole.
Today, the jury heard, in person, from family members of some of those killed. NPR's Martin Kaste was at Joint Base Lewis-McChord and - earlier today. He joins us now. And, Martin, talk a little bit more about this testimony. Who spoke, and what did they have to say?
MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: Well, the final two witnesses who were flown in from Afghanistan were two men who lived in the village, one of the villages the - that was attacked, but they were away during the attack. And they told the court what they found when they came home the next morning, having heard that something had happened.
One was named Haji Mohammad Wazir. He probably suffered the biggest blow in this attack. He lost 11 family members, and six of the people killed were his children. He has - had seven children. Now he has one boy left. He told the court, quote, through a translator: "I've gone through very hard times. Even right now, anybody talking to me about the incident, I feel like it's happening right now."
He also wanted to make a statement when the prosecutors' questions were done. The judge didn't allow a statement. That's not - this isn't the format for that. There's no place for statements like that. And he was very frustrated and disappointed. He clearly had more on his mind he wanted to share with the court.
CORNISH: Who else was able to speak during the sentencing phase?
KASTE: Well, we also heard from some military medical professionals. They talked about the severity of the injuries of those who survived. They spent a lot of talk - time talking about a girl who was shot in the head, lost - she had bullet fragments in her brain, had a lot of injuries to her brain. She'll probably be walking with a cane for the rest of her life, doesn't have a lot of control over one side of her body.
They talked about just how hard the rehab was for her in San Diego, and then when she was sent home, how that rehab seems to be fading, and she seems to be losing control of that part of her body again. They talked about children shot and the injuries they sustained.
We also heard from Colonel Todd Wood, who was the area commander at the time in that part of Afghanistan. And the prosecutors were drawing out of him what he thought was the damage that this massacre did to the military situation there. He talked about how they had to stop operations for 48 hours, how, you know, how traumatic that was to local leaders.
But on cross-examination, he also acknowledged to the defense that he didn't believe there was a lasting effect to the military situation in that part of Afghanistan. Still, he told the court that he thought the people in that part of Afghanistan have very long memories, and, quote, he said, "It will be generations before we regain some of that trust."
CORNISH: Martin, what about the defense? What are they likely to offer? Does anyone expect Sergeant Bales to speak?
KASTE: Not clear if Bales himself will take the stand. The defense just started today their process of trying to soften his image a little bit. They started with stories of his upbringing in Ohio, of the fact that he helped a neighbor with their severely disabled son when he was a teenager, the fact that 9/11 affected him very deeply and that he joined the military.
CORNISH: That's NPR's Martin Kaste. Martin, thank you.
KASTE: You're welcome.