For the first time, Afghan survivors of the March 2012 Panjwai massacre stood in the same room with U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, who pled guilty to the unprompted onslaught that left 16 Afghan civilians dead—9 of them children, and 11 of them from the same family—and 6 wounded, and told what it was like to stand on the other side of Bales' gun.
"I thought I was dreaming but when I woke up I heard screaming," said 12-year-old Sadiquallah, who was shot in the ear and neck by Bales, addressing a panel of military officers. He explained that he still has nightmares from the incident.
Sadiquallah's father, Mohammed Haji Naeem, burst into tears in the courtroom as he described watching his other son die, AFP reports. "This bastard stood right in front of me, I wanted to ask him what I had done, why would you shoot me?" he said, indicating towards the man who shot him in the head and neck. "I have nerve damage and stutter since I was shot," he added later. "I wasn't weak but since this bastard shot at me I'm almost like nothing now."
15 year-old Rafiulla, who was shot in both legs, describes being awoken by the murderous rampage: "We were sleeping, we heard some noise. He [Bales] ran into the room and pointed his handgun at my sister's head." Speaking of his sister, who survived a gunshot wound to her head, he stated, "She was a very bright girl, everybody loved her. Now we're all sad for her."
Rafiulla's mother, Samiullua, explained her son has never been the same. "He wakes up at night with nightmares thinking Americans are chasing him," she said.
Khan, a child, described his father's death. "My father was lying down and we were all watching him," he said. "What did I do wrong to sergeant Bales that he shot my father?"
As the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan—now the longest official war in U.S. history—stretches through its 12th summer, over 60,000 U.S. troops remain, in addition to vast webs of U.S. private contractors and U.S. appointed Afghan military generals. Despite a war-weary Afghan public, U.S. officials say troops are likely to stay far beyond the alleged 2014 pullout date. Meanwhile, attacks on Afghan children are skyrocketing, the UN reports.
The Kandahar massacre, notable for its high media profile while countless U.S. military acts of atrocity go unreported, had a very real and pervasive impact across an Afghanistan that has suffered under the constant reality of war and an occupying military force.
"Afghans are always dehumanized in the U.S. public, and I have to question how much value and weight the voices of these victims will have in court,"Suraia Sahar of Afghans United for Justice told Common Dreams.
Despite calls for Bales to be tried in Afghanistan, the U.S. instead whisked him away to stand trial in U.S. military courts.
"Bradley Manning's sentence today is evidence of the failure of the justice system in the U.S.," says Sahar. "It's all the more reason for Bales to be put on trial on Afghan soil."