JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, United States / Washington: A US military court here heard late Saturday some chilling accounts of children and other civilians killed when a US soldier allegedly went on a shooting rampage in Afghanistan in March.
Pre-trial hearings were being held here to determine if Sergeant Robert Bales should face a full court-martial.
Bales, 39, is accused of leaving his base in the Panjwayi district of Kandahar province on the night of March 11 to commit the killings, which included nine children. He allegedly set several of their bodies on fire.
The killings are thought to be the deadliest crime by a US soldier during the decade-long conflict and tested Washington and Kabul's already tense relationship to the limit.
Bales faces 16 counts of murder, six of attempted murder, seven of assault, two of using drugs and one of drinking alcohol.
Witnesses and relatives of victims testified via videolink from Afghanistan.
Rafiullah, a boy of 15 who spoke in Pashtun, said he was at home with his grandmother, Na'ikmarga, and his sister, Zardana, when a US soldier came.
"He had rifle and a pistol," Rafiullah said of Bales. "He put a pistol in my sister's mouth and then my grandmother started to wrestle with him. At that time I ran out of the door ... My sister and I were running. As soon as he left the room, my grandmother ran too."
When asked what happened next, Rafiullah answered: "He shot my grandmother and then my sister, and then me. He shot me on my legs. Zardana was shot on her head."
Samiullah, the father of Rafiullah and Zardana, said he was not in the village the night of the massacre, but returned as soon as he heard the news.
He said when he arrived, he saw the bodies of four dead Afghans on the ground.
The first two were Khudai Day and the daughter of Nazir Mohammad, he noted.
"I ran and took the blanket off and looked at him. I couldn't look so I put the blanket back on," Samiullah said. "Yes, he was shot on his head."
He said a young girl was lying by her father's side.
"She was shot in her head and her head was all bloody," the witness recalled.
Khan, a local boy dressed in black shirt and a traditional white cap, said he saw his father killed on the night of the incident.
Bales remained silent throughout the testimony.
Last Monday, prosecutors set out their case, saying Bales had been drinking whisky with colleagues before the massacre and watching the movie "Man on Fire," starring Denzel Washington as an ex-assassin on a revenge mission.
Should the Article 32 hearing result in a court-martial and Bales be found guilty, he could face the death penalty.
Bales was transferred from Afghanistan back to Fort Leavenworth in Kansas shortly after the massacre, before being moved back to Fort Lewis-McChord recently, home base of the US 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment.
His wife and two children were moved to the sprawling military base south of Seattle for their own security, and to shield them from the glare of the media in the wake of the killings.
Before the hearings, Bales' wife reiterated her belief that he was innocent, saying that he did not remember the shootings and said he was shocked when he was told details of the allegations against him.