The US Defense Department has said the soldier suspected of killing 16 Afghan civilians earlier this week may face the death penalty under the US military code. However officials have ruled out a trial in Afghanistan.
The American soldier suspected of killing 16 Afghan civilians in an apparently unprovoked shooting rampage could face the death sentence if convicted, US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Monday.
Panetta told reporters while on a military aircraft en route to Kyrgyzstan that the soldier would be brought to justice under the United States military code.
"My understanding is in these instances, that could be a consideration," he said when asked if the death penalty could be applied. He also rejected an accelerated draw-down of foreign troops in Afghanistan, saying it was "important that we push on, and that we bring this war to a responsible end and achieve the mission that all of us are embarked on."
Members of the Afghan parliament have demanded a public trial of the soldier, but both the Pentagon and the White House have stated he would be tried in a US military court.
Reports from US officials say the man left his base in Kandahar province on Sunday, entered three homes of Afghan civilians and opened fire. Sixteen were killed, most of them women and children. The soldier then gathered some of the bodies together and set fire to them. Officials say it was an isolated act of one rogue soldier.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai expressed outrage over the massacre, calling it "unforgivable." The Afghan Defense Ministry has said that its initial reports indicate the shooter acted alone but left open the possibility that there were accomplices.
"When Afghan people are killed deliberately by US forces, this action is murder and terror and an unforgivable action," Karzai said.
US President Barack Obama called the Afghan president and promised a speedy investigation into the killings. The attack has further threatened relations between the United States and Afghanistan, already on ice since the accidental burning of copies of the Koran by US forces, which led to days of riots and several killed.
acb/av (AFP, Reuters, AP)