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Panetta assures Afghans of justice despite shooting suspect's transfer

March 15, 2012 |  7:12 am

REPORTING FROM KABUL, AFGHANISTAN -- Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said Thursday he had offered assurances to Afghanistan's president that justice would be done in the case of 16 slain Afghan civilians despite the transfer of the alleged shooter out of the South Asia nation.

The U.S. soldier suspected of killing the Afghans during a shooting rampage Sunday was taken to a American detention facility in Kuwait while the investigation continues, U.S. officials said.

The transfer was made despite calls from some Afghan officials to have the Army staff sergeant, whose name has not been released, to be tried in Afghanistan.

Traveling in Afghanistan, Panetta said he assured President Hamid Karzai during their meeting Thursday that despite the transfer "we are proceeding with a full investigation and will bring the individual to justice."

He offered similar assurances at a news conference later Thursday, apparently in hopes of quelling anger among Afghans over the killings.

U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, the deputy commander of forces in Afghanistan, said Afghan officials were informed of the transfer before it took place.

"This is really about being sure we can execute this investigation and judicial proceedings fairly and properly," Scaparrotti said.

Holding the suspect in Kuwait allows "proper pretrial confinement" and "access to legal services" for the soldier, he added.

It's likely the suspect will be charged soon, at which point his name will be made public, Scaparrotti said.

It remains unclear where a court-martial will be held, though a strong possibility is Ft. Lewis, an Army base near Seattle where the soldier was assigned.

Pfc. Bradley Manning, the soldier accused of mishandling classified information later made public by WikiLeaks, was also held for several months in Kuwait before being brought back to the U.S. for court-martial.


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-- David S. Cloud

Photo: Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta holds a news conference at the Kabul airport before departing Afghanistan on Thursday. Credit: Scott Olson / Getty Images