Suspect In Afghan Attack ‘Snapped’ Under Strain of Alcohol, Stress

The American staff sergeant suspected of killing 16 Afghan villagers had been drinking alcohol — a violation of military rules in combat zones — and suffering from the stress related to his fourth combat tour and tensions with his wife about the deployments on the night of the massacre, a senior American official said Thursday.

“When it all comes out, it will be a combination of stress, alcohol and domestic issues — he just snapped,” said the official, who has been briefed on the investigation and who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the soldier has not yet been formally charged.

As new details emerged about possible reasons behind the shootings, the American official said the military was preparing to move the sergeant to a prison in the United States as early as Friday, most likely to Fort Leavenworth, Kan., just a day after he was flown to a detention site in Kuwait from Afghanistan.

The sergeant’s sudden transfer to the United States is the result of a behind-the-scenes diplomatic uproar with Kuwait, which learned of the sergeant’s move to an American base on Kuwaiti territory from news reports before the United States government could alert the Kuwaitis about it, the senior American official said.

“When they learned about it, the Kuwaitis blew a gasket and wanted him out of there,” the official said.

The account by the American official, confirmed by a senior official at the Pentagon, is the most detailed description so far of the state of mind of the sergeant, a 38-year-old married father of two who was on his first combat tour in Afghanistan but his fourth over all, including three in Iraq, since he enlisted in 2001.

“There will be questions raised about his emotional and mental stability for a fourth deployment,” the American official said.

The Army still has not named the soldier, but on Thursday a lawyer who said he had been retained by his family offered some information and questioned some of the American official’s claims.

The lawyer, John Henry Browne of Seattle, said it was “nonsense” that there were exceptional marital tensions. “I know that is not true,” he said at a news conference at his office Thursday night in Seattle.

Mr. Browne added that the inaccuracy of the claim made him “suspicious” of the suggestion that alcohol and stress contributed, though he noted that virtually anyone at a remote base in Afghanistan would be under stress.

The soldier and his wife had “a very healthy marriage,” Mr. Browne said. Their two children are 3 and 4 years old.

A decorated soldier who grew up in the Midwest, the man enlisted within a week of the terrorist attacks of 2001, he said.

“He felt it was his duty to stand up for the United States,” said Mr. Browne, who has handled many high-profile cases in the Northwest, including the recent defense of the teenage fugitive known as the Barefoot Bandit, Colton Harris-Moore.

Mr. Browne, who said he met with “a very large group of family members” on Wednesday and spoke with the soldier by telephone on Thursday, said the man had “been decorated many, many times. He’s been to Iraq twice. He was injured twice and he was deployed back to Afghanistan. He is a career military man.”

He added, “He was injured in Iraq in two places on his body, so he wasn’t certain he was healthy enough to go back, physically.”

Mr. Browne said the soldier suffered a concussion during a vehicle rollover accident caused by a roadside bomb. He also lost part of a foot in another episode.

He confirmed that the soldier, part of the Third Stryker Brigade, Second Infantry, had served three tours in Iraq with that unit.

He declined to say whether the sergeant might have psychological or mental health issues, and he also would not say whether the soldier had confessed. Mr. Browne said he would wait for the government to release the man’s name.

Mr. Browne criticized anonymous reports from government officials, calling them baseless.

“The government is going to want to blame this on an individual rather than blame it on the war,” he said.

Mr. Browne said that his client had been based at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, just south of Tacoma, Wash., for his entire career. He said that many but not all of his family members had moved from the Midwest to western Washington. He said the soldier had done “blue collar” work in the Midwest before he enlisted. The soldier’s wife had “a very good job,” he said, noting that he was being paid, not working on the case pro bono. Mr. Browne said that the day before the shooting a soldier in the same unit had been “gravely injured.”

The senior American official said the account of the sergeant’s state of mind came from two other soldiers with whom he drank alcohol on the night of the shootings. Those soldiers face disciplinary action.

The sergeant has refused to speak to investigators, invoking his right to a lawyer shortly after he surrendered on returning to his base after the shootings.

The soldier’s wife and children have been moved from their home at Joint Base Lewis-McChord for their protection in anticipation of the release of the sergeant’s name, the American official said. Concern for their safety was among the reasons for initially withholding the sergeant’s identity, the official said.

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