The Two-Way
8:49 am
Fri August 30, 2013

Thought Of 'Flames Of Hell' For Sgt. Bales Comforts Afghans

It was jarring for survivors and witnesses of the 2012 attack by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales on two villages in Afghanistan to come to the U.S. to testify at his trial this month, translator Ahmad Shafi tells Morning Edition.

They were at Washington State's Joint Base Lewis-McChord — a place much different than their homes in Kandahar. What's more, the U.S. military's system of justice was strange to them.

Bales, who killed 16 civilians and injured many others, had pleaded guilty. For the Afghans, Shafi says, it was disturbing and confusing to learn that the soldier wouldn't be given the death penalty. Instead, in exchange for his guilty plea, Bales was sentenced to life in prison.

But over time, according to Shafi, the men and boys who came to testify also bonded with some of the U.S. soldiers they were dealing with. Also over time, while the Afghans may not have agreed with the punishment given to Bales, they did achieve some peace of mind.

As one of the men told him, Shafi says, "the flames of hell are 70 times hotter than fire on Earth" and Sgt. Bales will some day "be burning in that flame."

Shafi was with the Afghans throughout their time at Lewis-McChord. His conversation with Morning Edition host Renee Montagne offers some insights on how people from a very different part of the world view the U.S. and how Afghans think about justice. For other such stories, check out what our colleagues at the Parallels blog write about each day.

Note: In July 2012 NPR's ombudsman wrote about Shafi, a former "translator, occasional reporter and all-round 'fixer' " at NPR's bureau in Kabul. A story Shafi had done while interning in NPR's Washington offices plagiarized portions of a report by the London Review of Books.

Ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos concluded that "forgiving the unforgivable sin of plagiarism" was the correct call in that case because "a cultural gap" had led to Shafi's mistake. Shafi was given additional training. An editor's note explained why the story was removed from NPR's website.

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