Details emerge about circumstances leading up to Afghan civilian massacre

Here and Now

U.S. officials continue to shield the identity of the Army staff sergeant accused of massacring 16 Afghan civilians over the week.

But late Thursday night and Friday new details began to emerge about the circumstances leading up to the killing. According to the Seattle Times, the soldier was reluctant to deploy on this, his fourth war tour.  Seattle-based defense attorney John Henry Browne said in a news conference Thursday that his client had already served three tours in Iraq, during which he lost part of his foot and suffered a head injury when his vehicle crashed after a roadside bomb exploded nearby.

The soldier is expected to be transferred on Friday to the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., after Kuwaiti officials became upset that he’d been taken to their nation.

There were also reports that he’d been drinking immediately prior to the incident and that he’d had tension with his wife — though his attorney rejects the latter characterization.

Hal Bernton, reporter for the Seattle Times, said the attorney is well-known figure in the Seattle area who’s handled high profile cases like the trial of serial killer Ted Bundy and high-profile thief Colton Harris-Moore, known as the barefoot bandit.

“He’s very well-known, but not so much for his work in the military,” Bernton said.

He’s expected to work alongside military lawyers. 

“I do think that narrative that’s starting to emerge, and it’s not necessarily a legal one but I do think it will resonate with American people some is, here’s a soldier who deployed for three times and according to his attorney didn’t want to go the fourth. I think there’s some resonance there,” Bernton said.

Bernton said in and around Joint Base Lewis-McChord, where the accused was stationed and has been for years, there have been several other incidents through the years, including a soldier stabbed just off base and a military officer arrested and accused of planning to blow up the state capitol.

It’s also the base for the four soldier who were courtmartialed in 2010 for a shooting spree that killed Afghan civilians. But Bernton pointed out it’s a large base with more than 30,000 soldiers and airmen stationed there.

“Many of the people are going about doing their jobs, like they always do,” Bernton said. “Going to war and coming back without having these kinds of problems we’re seeing.”

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has already said the death penalty could be on the table for this soldier, if he’s convicted. But Bernton said if that is in fact the case, the dynamics of the trial will change.

“The defense attorneys are given more resources and more latitude in how the case progresses,” Bernton said. “There’s a whole different level of attention that is given to the case through the military system. The cases that do include a death penalty are fairly rare.”

Even the four soldiers from Lewis-McChord courtmartialed in 2010 were not facing a death penalty charge.

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