What really happened on the night of March 11 when 17 Afghan civilians were massacred in Kandahar province?
US soldier Robert Bales is in custody, facing charges of mass murder, but Afghan investigators suspect there may have been at least one other killer involved.
With unprecedented access to Afghan military investigators, Yalda Hakim travels to the villages where the massacre took place and interviews survivors of the attack, as well as Afghan guards at the US military base that housed the alleged gunman.
What she finds out from them has made headlines in the United States and around the world.
WATCH - Click to see Yalda's report, which was subsequently nominated for Most Outstanding Public Affairs Report in the 2013 Logie Awards.
WORLDWIDE REACTION - Dateline's story made headlines around the world, including coverage on CNN and NBC in the US. After viewing the story, the Pentagon rejected the claims that Bales didn't act alone.
There's also a detailed blog on the Debating Chambers website looking at what's been reported worldwide about the massacre and the circumstances surrounding it.
INTERVIEW WITH YALDA - Yalda Hakim explains to SBS Radio's World News Australia how she was able to get such unprecedented access to the massacre investigation.
REPLAY - Look at Dateline's previous stories from Afghanistan, including Yalda's interview last month with President Hamid Karzai.
INSIGHT - SBS's Insight on 27th March looked at people who are trained to kill as part of their jobs and discussed what impact it has on their lives - click to watch online. Insight is shown before Dateline each Tuesday at 8.30pm on SBS ONE.
Photos (Robert Bales/Kandahar file image): AAP
Interview With Yalda
Yalda Hakim explains to SBS Radio's World News Australia how she was able to get such unprecedented access to the massacre investigation.
Response To Media Watch
Following criticism over the accuracy of this report by the ABC's Media Watch, Dateline's Executive Producer Peter Charley wrote to Media Watch presenter Jonathan Holmes on Friday 4th May with this response...
I watched with interest your recent examination of Yalda Hakim’s Dateline report on the killing of 17 civilians in Afghanistan. It is obvious that you were guided in your criticism by reporter Jon Stephenson who had launched a similar attack against Dateline on TVNZ’s Media 7 program. As you are aware, Stephenson’s claim on Media 7– that Dateline had pursued 'a false narrative" – was accompanied by a pernicious and defamatory attack on Yalda Hakim, details of which you wisely chose to exclude from your program. But the nature of Stephenson’s sustained personal derision of the Dateline report, and the apparent acceptance by Media Watch of his remarks as being fair and accurate, raises a number of serious questions:
1. Media Watch quoted Dutch reporter Bette Dam as saying that President Karzai based his view that more than one gunman was involved on 'second-hand accounts". As you would be aware, Stephenson expressed the same view on Media 7, saying 'Karzai says there were multiple shooters, and of course Karzai was relying on the same people who were not eye-witnesses." Did Media Watch contact the office of President Karzai to verify that this was the case? If not, why not?
Following the Media Watch allegations that Karzai’s view was based only on 'second-hand" testimony, Dateline sought to clarify his position. Presidential Spokesperson and Director of Communications Aimal Faizi provided the following statement in response to our inquiry:
'We confirm that the remarks made by President Karzai in relation to the Panjwai massacre and the possibility of more than one shooter or soldier being involved was based on the evidence and testimony provided by a range of accounts, including the surviving eye-witnesses and their relatives. We stand by any remarks he made to the press during his meeting with the family members of the victims and elders of Panjwai after the massacre and any suggestion that the President was relying on second-hand accounts is false."
Does Media Watch concede that it was misled by Jon Stephenson into believing that President Karzai had not spoken to eye-witnesses to the massacre? Will Media Watch now issue a correction to that effect?
2. Did Media Watch contact Afghanistan’s chief investigator, General Karimi, to confirm Jon Stephenson’s claim that Karimi now believes that only one killer was responsible for the massacre? If not, why not? If Media Watch did contact General Karimi to check whether or not he had changed his position on the 'multiple killer’ versus 'single-killer’ theory, why did it not broadcast details of General Karimi’s revised or unchanged view on the matter?
Since Media Watch’s report was broadcast, Dateline contacted General Karimi to establish whether or not his position on the 'multiple killer’ theory had changed. General Karimi issued the following statement:
'I totally reject the notion that I have back-tracked or changed my position. As you are aware, shortly after the massacre I travelled to the area to gather information for the president. Since then, my statements and interviews with the media about the issue have been based on testimony given to me by the surviving eye-witnesses and their relatives. I stand by the interview I gave SBS and reject claims that I have changed my position on this matter."
Does Media Watch concede that it was misled by Jon Stephenson into repeating the false assertion that General Karimi had changed his view that more than one killer may have been involved? Will Media Watch now issue a correction to that effect?
3. Does Media Watch concede, in view of the errors outlined above, that it has failed to observe the 'caution and scepticism" that it claimed 'was so lacking from Dateline’s story"?
4. Did Media Watch provide Jon Stephenson with a list of questions, seeking clarification and verification, as it did with Dateline? If not, would Media Watch concede that its investigation into Dateline’s report was fundamentally flawed in that it presupposed that Dateline had broadcast inaccuracies, while presuming that Jon Stephenson’s reports and claims against Dateline did not require verification or clarification? If Media Watch did provide Stephenson with a list of questions, will Media Watch publish those questions along with Stephenson’s responses to them?
5. In an email urging Media 7 to investigate Yalda Hakim’s report, Jon Stephenson had complained that: 'she (Yalda) appears to be claiming to be the first western journalist to have reached the scene of the massacre, which surprised me, because -- as far as I´m aware -- she didn't get there until several days after I did". Is Media Watch aware that Jon Stephenson later withdrew that claim when Dateline pointed out that he had never visited the scene of the killings in the village of Alkozai?
6. Media Watch has suggested that Yalda Hakim’s interviews with children who witnessed the massacre may have amounted to 'gross intrusion". Did Media Watch attempt to ascertain the circumstances surrounding those interviews and is it now aware that they took place with the imprimatur of President Karzai after village elders and relatives told Yalda that the children wanted to speak with her on camera? Does Media Watch acknowledge that Yalda Hakim’s interviews conformed to the recommendations set out by the Dart Centre for Journalism and Trauma, including the suggestion that the interviewer 'speak in language the child can understand’ (Yalda spoke to them in their native tongue)?
7. Media Watch reported that Jon Stephenson visited the area of the massacre and 'spoke to several witnesses". Did Jon Stephenson disclose to Media Watch the names of the witnesses he spoke to? If so, is Media Watch willing to publish the names of those witnesses and provide details of what they said to Jon Stephenson?
8. Media Watch reported that Jon Stephenson 'just discarded most of his (Mullah Barraan’s) testimony, he just didn't know what happened; he was just saying everything that was said by others." Is Media Watch aware that Mullah Barraan has provided extensive testimony describing how he 'scraped his brothers brains and parts of his skull off the ground after the attack" and does Media Watch consider that it is fair and reasonable to dismiss Mullah Barraan as 'not knowing what happened’ in view of his involvement of disposing of body parts after the massacre?
9. Was Media Watch’s remark: 'I don’t think it was professional jealousy that made him (Jon Stephenson) speak out about the Dateline program"¦" prompted by a suggestion that Stephenson was motivated by malice in attacking Dateline after he had failed to obtain the same degree of access to the story that had been achieved by Yalda Hakim? And did the contemplation of 'professional jealousy" take into account attacks on Stephenson’s credibility by the New Zealand Prime Minister and others which, even if they’re proven to be unfounded, suggest that Stephenson’s assertions should be tested carefully?
Jonathan, I trust you will provide a prompt reply to these questions. In view of the errors detailed in points 1 and 2 which served to discredit Dateline; I request that Media Watch publish a correction and an on-air apology to Dateline on your program of Monday, May 7.
I shall place this letter on Dateline’s website once it has been emailed to you and request that you place it in full on your website, too.
Replay: The Karzai Interview
Replay Yalda Hakim's interview with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, first broadcast in February 2012.