SEATTLE — The soldier accused of killing 16 Afghan villagers was on his way to a U.S. military prison, a senior defense official said Friday, as the soldier’s attorney spoke of the impact the fighting had on his client.
The defense official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of security surrounding the move, said the soldier would go Fort Leavenworth, Kan., the military’s only maximum-security prison.
The Kuwaiti military said in a statement carried on the state news Friday that the soldier had left Kuwait. He had been moved there from Afghanistan on Wednesday because, officials said, there was no appropriate detention facility to hold him in Afghanistan.
The U.S. defense official said the suspect’s move does not necessarily mean a decision was imminent on announcing formal criminal charges.
The soldier’s attorney, Seattle attorney John Henry Browne, told The Associated Press on Friday that he and the judge advocate general had to cancel a 6 a.m. PDT video conference with the soldier because the suspect was either preparing to fly or was en route.
Browne said either he or his legal partner, Emma Scanlan, will meet with the soldier at Fort Leavenworth next week.
Browne said that the day before the rampage, the soldier saw his friend’s leg blown off. Browne said his client’s family provided him with details of the injury to another U.S. soldier. The details have not been independently verified.
“His leg was blown off, and my client was standing next to him,” he said Thursday.
It isn’t clear whether the incident might have helped prompt the horrific middle-of-the-night attack on civilians in two villages last Sunday. Browne said it affected all of the soldiers at the base.
The suspect had been injured twice during his three previous deployments to Iraq and didn’t want to go to Afghanistan to begin with, Browne said.
Browne declined to release his client’s name, citing concerns for the man’s family, which is under protection on Joint Base Lewis-McChord, near Tacoma. But he said the soldier has two young children, ages 3 and 4.
FBI spokeswoman Ayn Dietrich in Seattle said the agency and the Department of Homeland Security issued a bulletin Thursday about the possibility of homegrown extremist retaliation for the shootings, but she said there’s no specific target or credible information about an imminent attack.
The soldier, a 38-year-old originally from the Midwest, deployed last December with the 3rd Stryker Brigade, and on Feb. 1 was attached to a “village stability operation.” Browne described him as highly decorated and said he had once been nominated for a Bronze Star, which he did not receive.
He said the soldier and his family had thought he was done fighting. The suspect was training to be a military recruiter before his deployment to Afghanistan, Browne said.
During tours in Iraq, the soldier suffered a concussive head injury in a car accident caused by a roadside bomb, Browne said, and he suffered a battle-related injury that resulted in surgery to remove part of his foot.
He was screened by health officials after the head injury before he redeployed, Browne said. He did not know if his client had been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, but said it could be an issue at trial if experts believe it’s relevant.
He and the rest of his brigade had initially been told they wouldn’t have to go to Afghanistan, Browne said.
Browne and his co-counsel, Scanlan, said at a news conference at their Seattle law office that they had met with the soldier’s wife and other family members, and Browne said he spoke briefly by phone with the soldier, whom he described as stunned and distant.
His family was “totally shocked,” he said. “He’s never said anything antagonistic about Muslims. He’s in general very mild-mannered.”
U.S. investigators have determined that the suspect had been drinking alcohol before leaving the base that night, a senior U.S. defense official said Friday. The official discussed the matter on condition of anonymity because charges have not yet been filed. Drinking is a violation of a U.S. military order that bans alcohol in war zones.
The defense official provided no further details about the role of alcohol and said the matter remained part of the criminal investigation.
Browne said he knew little of the facts of the shooting, but disputed reports that a combination of alcohol, stress and domestic issues caused the suspect to snap. He said the family said they were unaware of any drinking problem, and described the couple’s marriage as “fabulous.”
The soldier is accused of going on a shooting rampage in villages near his base in southern Afghanistan early Sunday, killing nine children and seven other civilians and then burning some of their bodies. The shooting, which followed a controversial Quran-burning incident involving U.S. soldiers, has outraged Afghan officials.
The soldier asked to be represented by Browne, a well-known Seattle defense attorney, when he was taken into custody, the lawyer said.
Browne said he’s spoken with the soldier, but did not discuss the substance of the allegations. He said the soldier had no prior events in his Army dossier indicating misbehavior.
Browne once defended serial killer Ted Bundy and recently represented Colton Harris-Moore, a youthful thief known as the “Barefoot Bandit.”
Browne said he has only handled three or four military cases before. The soldier will also have at least one military lawyer.
Military lawyers say once attorneys involved in the initial investigation of an alleged crime involving a service member have what they believe to be a solid understanding of what happened and are satisfied with the evidence collected, they draft charges and present them to a commander.
That person then makes a judgment on whether there is probable cause to believe that an offense was committed and that the accused committed it.
That commander then “prefers” the charges to a convening authority, who typically is the commander of the brigade to which the accused is assigned but could be of higher rank.