(MintPress)— The United States has paid tens of thousands of dollars to family members of victims killed in a shooting rampage allegedly perpetrated by an American soldier. MintPress previously reported that US Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales stands accused of leaving his post on a base in Afghanistan in the middle of the night March […]
(MintPress)— The United States has paid tens of thousands of dollars to family members of victims killed in a shooting rampage allegedly perpetrated by an American soldier.
MintPress previously reported that US Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales stands accused of leaving his post on a base in Afghanistan in the middle of the night March 11, and killing at least 16 unarmed civilians, then setting many of them on fire.
Kandahar provincial council member Haji Agha Lali Dastageri told Voice of America, a US government funded news service, that families of the victims of the tragedy received $50,000 per person killed and $11,000 per person wounded on Sunday.
According to Afghani culture, paying monetary restitution in cases where someone has been murdered is a traditional way of making restitution.
Families have also received smaller compensation payments from Afghan officials — $2,000 for each death and $1,000 for each person wounded.
US officials awarded a speculated $866,000 in total compensation during a ceremony Sunday, although there has been no official announcement made about the total amount.
Other US officials, who spoke to media anonymously due to the sensitive nature of the subject, said the payments “reflected the devastating nature of the incident” USA Today also reported.
“As the settlement of claims is in most cases a sensitive topic for those who have suffered loss, it is usually a matter of agreement that the terms of the settlement remain confidential,” Cummings was quoted by the news service as saying.
Family members react
Fazal Mohammed Esaqzai, deputy chairman of the Panjwai district council, who was present when the family members were awarded the payment, told the Washington Post “The victims’ families said that by accepting the money, it didn’t mean that they forgave the killer.”
Bales is currently being held in a military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., where he is awaiting trial. He is charged with 17 counts of murder in connection to the shooting spree, as well as six counts of attempted murder and six counts of aggravated assault, dereliction of duty and other violations of military law, the Associated Press has reported.
The mandatory minimum sentence if he is convicted is life imprisonment with the chance of parole. He could also receive the death penalty.
While family members of victims have been paid, will they ever see justice?
Bales’ Seattle-based attorney John Henry Browne, has said that a trial that could take years to iron out, telling AlJazeera “my first reaction to all of this is: prove it … This is going to be a very difficult case for the government to prove in my opinion. There is no CSI [crime scene investigation] stuff. There’s no DNA. There’s no fingerprints. All my cases start out with the government making as many charges as they can and then we spend months, years sometimes – in this case it will be years – whittling them down hopefully.”
Many speculate that the case could take years to complete, and the trial will be held in the US.
Haji Samad had family members killed in the attack, was quoted as saying, “We want the prosecution of this American soldier in Afghanistan not in the US, because he committed the crime in Afghanistan. Why he is going to be prosecuted in the US? If this man is prosecuted in Afghanistan, we will be relieved. If he is prosecuted in the US, we will be angry and it will remain a pain in our hearts.”
Another man, Wazir Khan, who lost eleven family members in the attack, requested a “swift trial and severe punishment”, according to AlJazeera.
Mohammad Wazir and another family member of a victim told CNN they refused the money on Monday, saying, “We want justice, we want our courts to make the decision, so the people who are involved are prosecuted. This happened in Afghanistan and we lost our family members here in Afghanistan so we want these people to be prosecuted in front of us, so we can watch them while they are being hanged.”
However, former US Judge Advocate General (JAG) Colonel Lisa Windsor as noting that while there may be increased pressure to begin prosecution in a “high profile case with political implications for the strained US-Afghan relationship” such as this, “You saw this in the Haditha case, people that were brought to trial so long after the fact in that case that it just made it very difficult after a while for the government to put a case together.”
In 2005, twenty-four unarmed civilians, Iraqi men, women and children were killed by a group of United States Marines in Haditha, a city in the western Iraqi province of Al Anbar.
Eight Marines were charged in that case, however no prison sentences were ever issued for the perpetrators, due to plea deals and promises of immunity in exchange for testimony.
While the mandatory minimum sentence Bales faces is life in prison, legal experts believe that the death penalty would be unlikely in the case,
The last time a US military members was sentenced to death was over a half-century ago, and no one currently on death row at Fort Leavenworth, has been convicted of an attack against foreign civilians.
Yale Law School professor Eugene Fidell, also a co-founder of the National Institute of Military Justice commented, “We don’t have a particularly bloodthirsty military justice program.”
In 1961 an Army ammunition handler was hanged for raping an 11-year-old girl in Austria.
The recent killings in Afghanistan are believed to be the deadliest war crime by a NATO soldier during the past decade, the news service said.
The massacre occurred on the heels of several other incidents involving US military in Afghanistan, which have strained relations between the countries, including the burning of holy Qurans by US military personnel at a US airbase in Bagram last month
Bales was on his fourth tour of duty, and reports have suggested that he was likely suffering from post traumatic stress disorder.
Bales’ attorney has also stated that there are legal, social and political issues linked to the case, telling the media, “The war’s on trial,” he said. “I’m not putting the war on trial, but the war is on trial.”