Horror stories from young Afghans at US hearing
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Three sessions of nighttime testimony in Bales' preliminary hearing, scheduled to accommodate witnesses participating by video link from Afghanistan, wrapped up late Sunday. After the hearing at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, the investigating officer will decide whether to court-martial Bales, who could be sentenced to death if convicted.
The witnesses were as young as little Robina, just 7, who wore a deep-red head covering and a nervous smile. She described how she hid behind her father when a gunman came to their village that night, how the stranger fired, and how her father died, cursing in pain and anger.
"I was standing behind my father,'' she testified Saturday night. "He shot my father.''
One of the bullets struck her in the leg, but she didn't realize it right away.
Prosecutors say Bales slipped away from his base to attack two villages in Kandahar province, killing 16 civilians, including nine children. The slayings drew such angry protests that the U.S. temporarily halted combat operations in Afghanistan, and it was three weeks before American investigators could reach the crime scenes.
The villagers also took out their anger on Afghan police, a police official from Kandahar testified Sunday night. Maj. Khudai Dad, chief of criminal techniques with the Afghan Uniform Police, said that at one of the compounds the morning after the attack, women upset about the attacks and about what they saw as a late arrival by Afghan officials pelted him with shoes, a major insult in Afghanistan and many other Islamic countries.
The stories recounted by the villagers have been harrowing. They described torched bodies, a son finding his wounded father, and boys cowering behind a curtain while others screamed, "We are children! We are children!''
Bales, 39, an Ohio native and father of two from Lake Tapps, Washington, has not entered a plea and was not expected to testify at the preliminary hearing. His attorneys have not discussed the evidence, but say he has post-traumatic stress disorder and suffered a concussive head injury while serving in Iraq.
During cross-examination of several witnesses, Bales' attorney John Henry Browne sought to elicit testimony about whether there might have been more than one shooter.
Dad, the police official, testified that he did not believe one soldier could have carried out the attacks, though he offered no evidence to support that opinion, and nearly all other testimony and evidence at the hearing pointed toward a single shooter.
One Army Criminal Investigations Command special agent testified earlier that several months after the massacre, she took a statement from one woman whose husband was killed. The woman reported that there were two soldiers in her room – one took her husband out of the room and shot him, and the other held her back when she tried to follow.
But other eyewitnesses reported that there was just one shooter, and several soldiers have testified that Bales returned to his base at Camp Belambay, just before dawn, alone and covered in blood.
A video taken from a surveillance blimp also captured a sole figure returning to the base.
The Afghan witnesses recounted the villagers who lived in the attacked compounds and listed the names of those killed. The bodies were buried quickly under Islamic custom, and no forensic evidence was available to prove the number of victims.
Prosecutors said that between the two attacks, Bales woke a fellow soldier, reported what he'd done and said he was headed out to kill more. The soldier testified that he didn't believe what Bales said, and went back to sleep.
Johnson can be reached at https://twitter.com/GeneAPseattle
As days without power drag on, frustration simmers<
New Yorkers railed against a utility company that has lagged behind others in restoring power two weeks after Superstorm Sandy socked the region, criticizing its slow pace as well as a dearth of information.
About 120,000 customers in New York and New Jersey remained without power Sunday, including tens of thousands of homes and businesses that were too damaged to connect to power even if it was running in their neighborhood. More than 8 million lost power during the superstorm, and some during a later nor'easter storm.
Separately, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano visited with disaster-relief workers Sunday in the borough of Staten Island's Midland Beach neighborhood, which is still devastated two weeks after Sandy hit.
The lack of power restoration for a relative few in the densely populated region at the heart of the storm reinforced Sandy's fractured effect on the area: tragic and vicious to some, merely a nuisance to others.
Perhaps none of the utilities have drawn criticism as widespread, or as harsh, as the Long Island Power Authority. Nearly 50,000 of the homes and businesses it serves were still without power Sunday evening, and 55,000 more couldn't safely connect even though their local grids were back online because their wiring and other equipment had been flooded. It would need to be repaired or inspected before those homes could regain power, LIPA said.
"We certainly understand the frustration that's out there,'' LIPA's chief operating officer, Michael Hervey, said in a conference call late Sunday. But, he said, the storm had been worse than expected, no utility had as many workers in place beforehand as it would have liked, and the power was coming back rapidly "compared to the damage that's been incurred.''
Customers told of calling LIPA multiple times a day for updates and getting no answer, or contradictory advice.
"I was so disgusted the other night,'' said Carrie Baram of Baldwin Harbor, on Long Island, who said she calls the utility three times a day. "I was up till midnight, but nobody bothered to answer the telephone.''
Baram, 56, said she and her husband, Bob, go to the mall to charge their cellphones, and Bob, a sales manager, goes there to work. They trekked to her parents' house to shower. At night, they huddle under a pile of blankets and listen to the sound of fire engines, which Baram assumes are blaring because people have been accidentally setting blazes with their generators.
"It's dark,'' said an exasperated Baram, "it's frightening, and it's freezing.''
LIPA has said it knows that customers aren't getting the information they need, partly because of an outdated information technology system that it is updating. On Sunday, executives said they were working on setting up information centers near the most heavily damaged areas. The company also said it had deployed 6,400 linemen to work on restoring power, compared to 200 on a normal day.
"`They're working on it, they're working on it' – that would be their common response,'' Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano said Sunday, describing LIPA's interaction with his office.
Mangano and other lawmakers have called for the federal government to step in and assist with restoring power to Long Island, saying LIPA could not be trusted to get the job done.
On Sunday, LIPA said it had restored power to 95 percent of homes and businesses where it was safe to receive power and that that figure would be 99 percent by the end of Tuesday. It didn't give an estimate for the remaining customers.
In New York City, the mayor's office said about 6,000 residents of low-income housing were still without power in 30 buildings.
Police raised the city's death toll from the storm to 43, after the death of a 77-year-old retired custodian who apparently fell down the stairs of his apartment building in the Rockaways, when it was dark and without power. Family members found him on Oct. 31; he died at a hospital Saturday.
Though New York and New Jersey bore the brunt of the destruction, at its peak, the storm reached 1,000 miles (1,600 kilometers) across, killed more than 100 people in 10 states, knocked out power to 8.5 million and canceled nearly 20,000 flights. More than 12 inches (30 centimeters) of rain fell in Easton, Maryland, and 34 inches (86 centimeters) of snow fell in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Damage has been estimated at $50 billion, making Sandy the second most expensive storm in U.S. history, behind Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
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