A U.S. soldier accused of massacring 16 civilians in Afghanistan has been transferred out of the country, a Pentagon spokesman said Wednesday, without saying where he was taken.
“He has been flown outside of the country, based on legal recommendation,” said U.S. Navy Captain John Kirby, arguing that the U.S. military did not have a suitable detention facility in Afghanistan to hold him.
The move came amid a tug-of-war over where the suspect should be tried, with the Afghan parliament demanding a public trial before the Afghan people and the Pentagon insisting he be prosecuted under the U.S. military justice system.
The suspect, a 38-year-old army sergeant, is alleged to have left his base in southern Kandahar province before dawn Sunday and then proceeded to kill 16 people, many of them children, in two neighboring villages.
He then returned to his base and surrendered. U.S. army investigators have video images of him as he turned himself in, a U.S. source in Afghanistan told AFP.
Nothing has been disclosed about his motivation or mental state three days after the incident, which has plunged U.S.-Afghan relations to a new low and raised broader questions about the US strategy there.
The soldier, who has not been identified, has not been charged as yet, although Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has said he could be sentenced to death if found guilty.
Asked whether the soldier’s transfer out of Afghanistan meant that he would not be tried there, Kirby said it was “too soon to talk about specific judicial” matters.
Another Pentagon spokesman, George Little, said on Monday, however, that under US-Afghan agreements the U.S. military would prosecute any U.S. soldiers accused of committing crimes.