The Army issued about $980,000 in condolence payments to Afghan families who lost relatives to Staff Sgt. Robert Bales’ massacre in Kandahar province last year, a former infantry brigade commander said in court Wednesday.
That sum is significantly higher than had been reported previously in news media accounts since the March 11, 2012, killings. Initially, news reports suggested the Army about $50,000 in condolences for each fatal casualty and a lesser amount for nonfatal wounds.
Col. Todd Wood, formerly the top officer in the part of Kandahar province where Bales killed 16 civilians and wounded six others, said the Army issued the payments during a two-day “cooling off” period that followed the slaughter.
At the time, Wood led the Alaska-based 1st Brigade, 25th Infantry Division. It was in the final weeks of its yearlong mission in southern Afghanistan when Bales twice snuck out of his combat outpost to murder civilians in separate villages.
Wood spoke at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Bales’ sentencing trial. He said the killings “strained” relationships between the American military and its Afghan partners, as well as damaging the goodwill of local civilians.
“It’ll be generations before we can gain some of that trust back,” he said.
Wood was the prosecution’s final witness. Bales’ defense attorneys have begun calling witnesses, starting with the soldier’s brother, William.
An Afghan man who lost nearly his entire family to Staff Sgt. Robert Bales’ massacre in Kandahar province last year struggled Wednesday in court to find the words that could do justice to his grief.
Haji Mohammed Wazir lost his mother, wife, six children and brother. He and his son, Habib Shah, missed the slaughter because they were out of town.
“If someone loses one child, you can imagine how devastating it would be,” Wazir said in court at Bales’ sentencing trial. “I lost my entire family.”
All together, Bales killed 11 of Wazir’s relatives in the early hours of March 11, 2012 in what was the soldier’s second solitary foray outside of his combat outpost.
The Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldier reportedly murdered Wazir’s youngest child, a 2-year-old girl, by stomping on her head. He gathered the bodies in a pile and lit them on fire before he started walking back to his NATO base.
Bales, 39, in June pleaded guilty to murdering 16 Afghan civilians and wounding six more. He’s in court this week trying to persuade a six-member jury that he his mandatory minimum life sentence should give him an opportunity for parole one day.
His defense team has not yet begun presenting its arguments.
Wazir was the ninth and final Afghan villager to testify this week. He gave understated testimony and did not look directly at Bales. Wazir appeared to steal glances at the soldier out of the sides of eyes as he answered questions from prosecutor Lt. Col. Rob Stelle.
Wazir has spoken to news media outlets several times since the slaughter. He says he relives the pain of losing his family any time someone asks about it.
“I feel like it’s that day again,” he said through a translator. “I feel like it’s happening right now. My life is never going to be the same again.”
His remaining son, Habib Shah, now 5, likewise continues to struggle with the loss.
“He misses everyone. He has not forgotten anyone,” Wazir said.
Wazir’s cousin, Khamal Adin, also testified. Adin was the first member of the family to arrive at the scene of the killings in the village of Najiban.
He traveled from the city of Kandahar to the family household and found a horrific site: Shatarana, Wazir’s mother, was lying in a doorway with her brains on the ground.
He noticed smoke coming from a room and followed it to find a pile of smoldering bodies. He saw 2-year-old Nabia with a crushed skull, he said.
“What I did notice was a footprint,” Adin said. “A shoe print on her face, in such a way that her teeth were crushed on her tongue.”
Adin has noticed changes in his cousin, Wazir. He loses himself in prayer, and loses track of time.
On one day in the religious celebration known as Eid, Wazir prayed in the morning. He stayed through the day, missing subsequent prayers with his family. Adin found him sobbing in a cloth.
“He lost track of time. He said, ‘I am here to pray.’ We said, ‘You missed prayers.’”
Both Afghans said they had more they wanted to tell jurors about Bales, but they were constrained to only answering questions from attorneys. Army judge Col. Jeffery Nance would not allow them to run on out of concerns that they might improperly influence the jury.
“In my heart, there are things I want to speak about,” Wazir said. He could not express them Wednesday.