JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, United States / United States - A US Army sergeant facing life in prison for slaughtering 16 Afghan villagers came face-to-face with survivors of the massacre for the first time at a sentencing hearing Tuesday.
Robert Bales, 40, pleaded guilty in June to killing the villagers - nine of them children - in a deal brokered by his defense team to avoid the death penalty.
But seven survivors of the soldier's murderous rampage offered gut-wrenching testimony at an army hearing that must decide whether Bales will be allowed to seek parole after a minimum of 20 years behind bars or face the rest of his life in prison.
In emotional evidence to a military panel of three officers and three senior soldiers, the survivors spoke of the devastating physical and emotional scars inflicted by Bales' actions.
"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 when Bales broke into his family's home on the night of March 11, 2012, after decamping from his base in the Panjwayi district of southern Kandahar province following a drinking session.
The boy's father, Mohammed Haji Naeem, 60, meanwhile broke down in tears as he recounted the attack, which saw another of his sons shot dead. Naeem, wearing traditional clothing and testifying in Pashto through a translator, said he saw Bales' jump over a wall into his property and start firing.
"This bastard stood right in front of me, I wanted to ask him what I had done, why would you shoot me?" said Naeem, who was shot in the neck and head. "I have nerve damage and stutter since I was shot. I wasn't weak but since this bastard shot at me I'm almost like nothing now," said Naeem, who later left the witness stand in tears.
Another villager, Samiullua, aged around 30, told of the traumatic impact that the murder of his mother had upon his family.