The U.S. soldier held in connection with the killings of 16 civilians in Afghanistan wasn’t expecting to be deployed overseas again after he was injured twice in Iraq, his lawyer said.
“He was told that he was not going to be redeployed,” lawyer John Henry Browne told reporters today at his office in Seattle, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of Joint Base Lewis-McChord, the soldier’s home station.
“The family was counting on him not being redeployed,” Browne said. “He and the family were told that his tours in the Middle East were over, and then literally overnight, that changed” and he was sent to Afghanistan in December.
Investigators continue to seek a motive for the March 11 killings in which the 38-year-old staff sergeant opened fire on civilians in their homes, according to an Army memo to Congress. The incidents threaten to erode U.S.-Afghan relations, drain remaining U.S. and European support for the war and add pressure to speed troop withdrawals.
Browne, who said he had been retained by the soldier’s family, scoffed at a New York Times report that the father of two, who enlisted after the terrorist attacks of 2001, had problems with alcohol and tensions with his wife.
“Nonsense,” Browne said. He didn’t reveal the soldier’s name, which the military has also declined to release.
“It would be fair to say that he and the family were not happy that he was going back,” Browne said.
From the Midwest
The soldier is originally from the Midwest, according to Browne, who represented serial killer Ted Bundy, executed in 1989, and, more recently, 20-year-old Colton Harris-Moore, known as the “Barefoot Bandit” for stealing aircraft, boats and cars in a multistate crime spree.
Browne, 65, joined the King County Public Defender’s Office in 1975 and became chief trial attorney, according to a 1998 Seattle Times profile. After starting his own practice in the late 1970s, he represented Benjamin Ng, accused of helping to kill 13 people in Washington’s worst mass-murder, according to the newspaper. The jury spared Ng’s life.
The shooting suspect arrived in Afghanistan on Dec. 3 from Lewis-McChord, the Army said in a memo prepared for members of Congress. It was his first deployment to the country after three tours in Iraq, Pentagon spokesman George Little has said.
The Afghan shooting suspect trained as an infantryman and was a qualified sniper, according to a U.S. defense official familiar with the case. The alleged gunman’s job in Afghanistan was providing “force protection” for a Special Forces compound, said a second official. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because charges haven’t been filed.
Tours in Iraq
Before his duty in Afghanistan, the soldier’s most recent tour in Iraq ended in 2010, an official said. Browne said the soldier suffered a head injury in a vehicle rollover accident and lost part of a foot in another injury.
Last weekend, the soldier hiked to a village 800 meters (0.5 miles) south of his base near Kandahar city and then to another village 500 meters north of the base to commit the killings, the Army said in the memo to Congress.
The soldier’s wife and two children have been moved inside Lewis-McChord from off-base housing for their safety, the official said.
In reaction to the shootings, Afghan President Hamid Karzai told visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta today that U.S.-led coalition forces must leave rural areas and withdraw to major bases, according to a statement from Karzai’s office.
American troops triggered riots last month by burning copies of the Koran, the Islamic scripture, in a rubbish pit at the main U.S. base in the country. In January, Afghans protested over a video that showed U.S. Marines urinating on the bodies of Afghans they had killed.
In a previous case of civilian killings in Afghanistan, a soldier was convicted last year of leading a rogue Army unit from Joint Base Lewis-McChord -- where the suspect in the new case is based -- that killed three Afghan civilians for sport. That soldier, Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs, was sentenced to life in prison.
Lewis-McChord, the biggest base on the U.S. West Coast, has been the focus of headlines and government inquiries into suicides, deaths and crimes by soldiers based there. Some veterans have said repeated deployments and inadequate mental- health services are contributing factors.
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