Suspect in Afghan shootings transferred to US
Seattle - The US soldier accused of killing 16 Afghan villagers was on Friday en route to a maximum security facility at a military base in Kansas, as US officials revealed alcohol may have been a factor in the shootings.
"He is now headed for the continental states and will be taken to Fort Leavenworth," a US official told AFP.
The suspect's attorney John Henry Browne, who also spoke of the transfer of his client to the Kansas base, stressed that the US Army sergeant had been upset by a serious injury sustained by a comrade the day before the massacre, but held no animosity toward Muslims.
The Seattle-based Browne told CNN on Friday that he talked by phone with his client, who sounded unclear of some facts in the case, leading the lawyer to say he was "concerned about his state of mind".
The soldier had been held in Kuwait after his transfer from Afghanistan, a move which enraged some Afghan officials who had called for the man to be tried publicly in the country where the massacre was committed.
A decorated veteran, the suspect is alleged to have left his base in southern Kandahar province before dawn on Sunday and then proceeded to kill the Afghans, many of them children, in two neighbouring villages.
The suspect is not being named, and his family has moved to a military base south of Seattle because of security fears and concerns about possible retaliation for the attack.
Browne, a high-profile defence lawyer in Seattle who reportedly defended serial killer Ted Bundy, said stress was likely a factor in the conditions which led the soldier to allegedly go on such a rampage.
He learned from military lawyers that "another soldier at this base was brutally attacked the day before this incident and actually had his leg shot off right in front of my client", Browne said.
"Anyone who's in Afghanistan right now, particularly someone who's been in Iraq three times previously and been injured, would obviously be under a great deal of stress," he said.
Browne added that his client, who had suffered head trauma and a foot injury during deployments, "sounded kind of distant and like a deer in the headlights" when they spoke by phone.
When asked if he believed his client knew what he had done, he said: "No."
"He seemed to be unaware of some of the facts that I talked to him about, which makes me concerned about his state of mind, obviously."
A US official on Friday said the suspect's transfer to US soil should not be linked to suggestions that charges against him are imminent.
"I wouldn't try to draw a cause and effect between the physical movement of him and the charge process. He will be charged when it's appropriate to be charged and not until then," the official said.
Details have been slow to emerge about the suspect and the events surrounding the shootings, but the US official, who requested anonymity, said "investigators have reason to believe that alcohol may have been a factor in this tragic incident".
Browne said he had no information about whether his client had been drinking before the shootings, but he refuted as "totally bogus" a report in The New York Times which cited the suspect's marital troubles.
"He's a very strong family man, he has two young children, he's a devoted father. He's a career military individual," Browne said.
"He has never said anything racist or hostile towards Muslims or Afghanis so this whole thing is obviously a great surprise to his family."
Browne also said he would be looking into why a soldier who had been wounded twice would be sent back to Afghanistan, apparently for a fourth combat tour.
"We do know he had a concussive head injury. We also know he was injured in his leg severely, and I am somewhat confused as to why they would send him back to Afghanistan," Browne said.
"He was told he was not going to go and then overnight he was told he was going to go, and as a good soldier he did what he was told."
Browne said it was possible the suspect could be tried in a military court at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, south of Seattle, which has been the soldier's home base throughout his military career.
He could equally be tried in any major US garrison, or possibly in a military court outside the country, but Browne said he thought a trial in Afghanistan was "completely off the table".