Obstruction of Afghan Massacre Investigation
by Gregory Patin
John Henry Browne, the defense attorney representing Staff Sergeant Robert Bales who is accused of killing 17 Afghan civilians in Kandahar earlier this month, says he cannot interview witnesses and prosecutors will not cooperate with his team's investigation.
"We are facing an almost complete information blackout from the government, which is having a devastating effect on our ability to investigate the charges preferred against our client," Browne said in a statement released on Friday.
According to a Reuters report, Browne claims U.S. forces in Afghanistan obstructed him and his associates from reaching the injured civilians at a hospital in Kandahar province to interview them about the incident:
When we tried to interview the injured civilians being treated at Kandahar Hospital we were denied access and told to coordinate with the prosecution team. The next day the prosecution team interviewed the civilians injured. We found out shortly after the prosecution interviews of the injured civilians that the civilians were all released from the hospital and there was no contact information for them.
That means potential witnesses will scatter and could prove unreachable, making it virtually impossible to track them down. Thus far Bales' defense has only managed to talk to U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan, but not victims or actual witnesses of the attack.
Browne explains that the military prosecutors who filed the charges against Bales have possibly been unwilling to cooperate because "they are concerned about the strength of their case."
Browne's statements raise questions about whether the U.S. military really wants to punish the guilty party to the fullest extent of the law and raise suspicions that the U.S. government is concealing some ugly truth about the Kandahar massacre. In the days immediately following the incident, reports about the events in U.S. media sources widely varied from those in overseas sources.
US officials still insist that only one soldier was involved in the shootings. They showed their Afghan counterparts images captured by a surveillance camera on a blimp above the base, which allegedly shows Bales returning after the shooting. But the investigators, for some reason, withheld the surveillance video from Bales' lawyer.
An independent Afghan investigation team sent by President Hamid Karzai to the villages in Kandahar analyzed reports from witnesses and survivors who claimed more than one U.S. soldier was involved and concluded that up to 20 troops were involved.
The Afghan report firmly stated that "one soldier cannot kill so many people in two villages within one hour at the same time." President Hamid Karzai, who also said that the delegation "did not receive cooperation from the USA regarding the surrender of the US soldiers to the Afghan government," seemed to share the same suspicions.
A journalist for SBS Dateline in Australia, Yalda Hakim, provides yet another account. Hakim was born in Afghanistan and as a child, immigrated to Australia. Hakim also said American investigators tried to prevent her from interviewing the children, saying her questions could traumatize them.
After appealing to village leaders, interviews were arranged. Hakim and cameraman Ryan Sheridan were granted rare access to President Hamid Karzai's chief investigator, to survivors and their relatives, and to the area where the attacks took place. She is, perhaps, the first international journalist to interview the surviving witnesses.
In a video aired by SBS Dateline, children who witnessed the events told Hakim that other Americans were present during the massacre, holding flashlights in the yard. "One man entered the room and the others were standing in the yard, holding lights," an eight year-old named Noorbinak told Hakim. (Note: Above link is to original video, embedded video to left was found on You Tube).
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|Gregory Patin is a free-lance writer residing in Madison, WI. He earned a BA in political science from the University of Wisconsin - Madison and a MS in IT management from Colorado Tech. He is politically independent and not affiliated with either (more...)
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