Afghan lawmakers are furious the US opted to fly its soldier accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians to Kuwait. The legislators have urged Kabul not to sign a strategic partnership pact with Washington unless the suspect faces justice in Afghanistan.
The US soldier accused of slaying 16 villagers was held by the US military in Kandahar until Wednesday evening, when he was flown out to Kuwait, a US official said on condition of anonymity.
"We do not have appropriate detention facilities in Afghanistan," Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain John Kirby said later on Wednesday. He added that meant a facility for a US service member "in this kind of case."
Kirby added the transfer did not necessarily mean the trial would be held outside Afghanistan. US officials had previously said it would be technically possible to hold proceedings in the country. US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, meeting with troops and Afghan leaders on Wednesday, said the serviceman could face the death penalty.
Panetta arrived for his unannounced visit three days after the massacre in Kandahar province.
Afghan lawmakers had previously demanded that the soldier be publicly tried in their country to show that he was being brought to justice.
"It was the demand of the families of the martyrs of this incident, the people of Kandahar and the people of Afghanistan to try him publicly in Afghanistan," said Mohammad Naeem Lalai Hamidzai, a Kandahar lawmaker who is part of a parliamentary commission investigating the shootings.
Now the officials want to deadlock talks on the strategic partnership agreement between Kabul and Washington unless the suspect faces justice in Afghanistan. The pact is supposed to regulate US involvement in Afghanistan beyond 2014, when the last foreign combat troops are to leave Afghanistan. The US wants to maintain advisers there as it tries to wind down its military presence on the ground. The Strategic Partnership Agreement, which the two countries have been discussing for over a year, was supposed to become a key part of the strategy.
Meanwhile, American military defense lawyer Michael Waddington says the decision to remove the soldier from the country may complicate the prosecution.
The prosecutors won't be able to use statements from Afghan witnesses unless the defense is able to cross-examine them, he said.
Waddington added the decision to remove the suspect was likely a security call.
On Friday the sergeant asked John Henry Browne, a lawyer from his native Seattle, to represent him. Browne is best known for representing Colton Harris-Moore, also known as the “Barefoot Bandit,” who stole airplanes while he was on the run.
Sixteen Afghan villagers, including nine children, were shot in their houses by at least one US serviceman on Sunday, March 11.
The soldier was caught on a US surveillance video that showed him walking up to his base, laying down his weapon and raising his arms in surrender, according to an Afghan official who viewed the footage.
The official said Wednesday there were also two to three hours of video footage covering the time of the attack that Afghan investigators are trying to get from the US military.
US authorities showed their Afghan counterparts the video of the surrender to prove that only one soldier was involved in the shootings, the official said.
Witnesses to the atrocity however say that several drunken American servicemen were involved.
Since then, Afghanistan has been shaken by mass protests against the rampage. About 1,000 Afghans took to the streets on Thursday to protest the massacre of civilians.