To avoid the death penalty, a US soldier pleaded guilty to slaying 16 civilians, many of them women and children, in the Afghan province of Kandahar. However, survivors and victims' relatives want Robert Bales executed.
The news about Bales reached the people of the Panjwai district of Kandahar just moments after the Staff Sergeant made his plea before a US military tribunal in Washington State. The inhabitants of the village, where Bales ran amok on March 11, 2012, have been closely monitoring every stage of the trial.
Prosecutors say Bales slipped away before dawn from his base in Kandahar Province. Armed with a pistol and a rifle he attacked neighboring villages and killed or wounded a total of 22 people. Most of the victims were women and children, and some of the bodies were burned. The incident sparked outrage in Afghanistan and among the international community and pushed the already strained US-Afghan ties to a new low.
Military Judge Colonel Jeffery Nance accepted Bales' guilty pleas, and ruled that the 39-year-old would face a maximum of life behind bars without eligibility for parole. A jury will decide in August whether the soldier is sentenced to life with or without the possibility of parole. His lawyer, John Browne, told AFP he hoped his client would be released from jail after serving 10 years in prison.
Victims are outraged
The victims' relatives are outraged over the ruling, arguing that the US Army Sergeant deserves to be executed. They believe that Bales shouldn't have been flown back to United States in the first place.
Haji Abdul Baqi lost his brother in the massacre and has other family members who were badly injured. He is beside himself with rage: "16 people were murdered. If an Afghan committed a similar crime in the US, he would obviously be tried there and not in Afghanistan".
It's so unfair that this man is put on trial in the US." he said. "We have our own government and our own laws," he stressed, adding that Bales should have been brought to justice before an Afghan court.
No forgiveness for Bales
Baqi says he can't understand why Bales won't be given what he believes is an "adequate punishment" for his crimes. He views Bales as a terrorist and accuses the US of repressing the Afghan people: "This man has committed a terrorist act. We believe that he must be executed in Afghanistan. If this doesn't happen, then he should at least be sentenced to death in the US in order to ease the grief of the victims' relatives."
Victims' relatives want Bales to be extradited to Afghanistan where he is to face an "adequate punishment"
Baqi's rage is shared by others in the district. Haji Noor Mohammad lost his grandparents, his sister and a cousin on that March night. He is also demanding Bales be extradited to Afghanistan to face trial. "This lenient ruling will encourage further terrorists to slay innocent Afghans and Muslims. We must set an example for other Islamic nations," he said, adding that Afghans would never forgive the Americans for this "infamous act."