- Associated Press - Thursday, March 15, 2012

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Afghan lawmakers expressed anger Thursday that the United States flew an American soldier accused of killing 16 civilians to Kuwait, saying Kabul shouldn’t sign a strategic partnership agreement with Washington unless the suspect faces justice in Afghanistan.

Negotiations over the agreement, which would govern the presence of U.S. forces in Afghanistan after most combat troops withdraw by the end of 2014, were tense even before the shooting deaths of the civilians, including nine children, in southern Kandahar province on Sunday.

The killings came in the wake of violent protests last month triggered by American soldiers who burned Korans and other Islamic texts. More than 30 people were killed in those demonstrations, and Afghan forces turned their guns on their supposed allies, killing six U.S. soldiers.

The public response to the shooting spree has been much more muted, partly because senior Afghan officials have used their influence to persuade citizens not to hold demonstrations.

The U.S. flew the suspect out of the country on Wednesday evening, U.S. officials said. The U.S. military said the transfer did not preclude the possibility of trying the case in Afghanistan.

But that didn’t appease Afghans upset at the move.

“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.

The U.S. informed Afghan leaders that the soldier was going to be moved, and “they understood,” said U.S. Lt. Gen. Curtis Scaparotti, deputy commander of American forces in Afghanistan. Moving the suspect will allow the U.S. to provide pretrial confinement, access to legal representation and the ability to ensure fair and proper judicial proceedings, he said.

Afghan government officials have not responded to a request for comment on the transfer.

The Pentagon has said the U.S. does not have appropriate detention facilities in Afghanistan.

In Kuwait, Lt. Col. David Patterson, a U.S. Army spokesman, said Thursday that the detention unit there, known as a Theater Field Confinement Facility, holds pretrial detainees and post-trial confinees for a limited amount of time.

He would not confirm any further details about the case.

The Kuwait detention facilities have been used for other U.S. troops. The most prominent detainee recently was Army PFC Bradley Manning, who was held there after he was taken into custody in Baghdad in 2010 for allegedly leaking government documents in the WikiLeaks case.

Abdul Khaliq Balakarzai, another Kandahar lawmaker, said President Hamid Karzai should respond to the U.S. decision to move the soldier by refusing to sign the strategic partnership agreement.

“If the trial was in Afghanistan, the people would see that America doesn’t like this soldier and wants to punish him,” Mr. Balakarzai said, “but unfortunately, America ignored our demand.”

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