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Tacoma, Washington - An Afghan teenager who survived a rampage by a US soldier who killed 16 unarmed civilians last year testified on Tuesday about the pain of losing his grandmother, at the start of a sentencing trial for the man behind the carnage.
The teenager, who was shot in the legs and whose sister was also seriously wounded and now suffers nightmares, was among a group of Afghan victims of the violence flown to the United States to testify on the impact of the killings.
“She loved me extra and every time I think of her I cry,” the boy, whose name was given only as Rafiulla and who was described as about 15 years old, said through an interpreter about his grandmother.
The testimony at a US military base in Washington state came shortly after a jury of six military personnel was impanelled to decide the fate of US Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, who pleaded guilty to the killings in June.
Bales, a veteran of four combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, has admitted to gunning down the villagers, mostly women and children, in nighttime attacks on their family compounds in Kandahar province in March 2012.
In exchange for his guilty plea, Bales will be spared the death penalty. The jury will determine whether he will spend the rest of his life in prison or be eligible for the possibility of parole after 20 years.
Army prosecutors have said Bales acted alone and with chilling premeditation when, armed with a pistol, a rifle and a grenade launcher, he left his base twice during the night, returning in the middle of his rampage to tell a fellow soldier: “I just shot up some people.”
The shootings marked the worst case of civilian slaughter blamed on a rogue US soldier since the Vietnam War and further eroded strained US-Afghan relations after more than a decade of conflict in that country.
Defence attorneys for Bales said on Monday that they would argue during the sentencing hearing that post-traumatic stress disorder and a brain injury were factors in the killings. The lawyers have said he suffered from PTSD even before his deployment to Afghanistan.
Bales, who has claimed his memories of the killings are spotty, nevertheless acknowledged the killings upon pleading guilty and told the court in June there was “not a good reason in this world” for his actions.
During a nine-day pre-trial hearing last fall, witnesses testified that Bales had been upset by a bomb blast near his outpost that severed a fellow soldier's leg days before the shootings.
Prosecutors have said they hoped to show Bales had engaged in a pattern of bad behaviour that predated his multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.
They also played for jurors taped telephone conversations between an incarcerated Bales and his wife, Kari, laughing about the dropping of one charge levelled against him.
The proceedings at Lewis-McChord, a military base near Tacoma, Washington, are expected to last at least a week.
In testimony, Mohammad Haji Naeem, 60, an Afghan with a thick beard who was dressed in traditional clothes with a head wrap, was asked by a military prosecutor what he was thinking when Bales shot him in the head.
“What did I do, what have I done to you?” Naeem responded through an interpreter.
The prosecutor, Army Lieutenant Colonel Jay Morse, asked Naeem how he felt when his son was shot and the Afghan became visibly upset.
“I'm leaving, for God's sake don't ask me any more questions,” Naeem said, which drew his testimony to a close. - Reuters