US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta [official website] indicated on Tuesday that a US soldier accused of shooting and killing 16 civilians in Afghanistan could face the death penalty if convicted of the charges. The identity of the US sergeant accused of the shootings has not been released, but the sergeant is alleged to have gone on a shooting spree [CNN report] in a village in the Kandahar province of Afghanistan, which resulted in the deaths of nine children, three women and four men. Following the shootings, the suspect returned to his base [Telegraph report] and turned himself in. According to Panetta, the suspect will be tried under the US Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) [text], which does allow for the death penalty. Panetta also indicated that targeted killing of civilians could warrant the death penalty under the military's code. The Afghanistan Parliament [official website] on Monday demanded that the solider be put on trial before the Afghan public, while Afghan President Hamid Karzai [official website, in Pashto] also denounced the attack. US President Barack Obama [official website] called the killing of innocent civilians unacceptable and indicated that anyone responsible for such attacks will be held accountable. The US Department of Defense (DOD) [official website] has also stressed that the military will be responsible [press release] for the prosecution of the solider.
US military courts have previously dealt with the prosecution of soldiers accused of killing civilians in Afghanistan. In November, a US military court convicted an army squad commander [JURIST report] of three counts of premeditated murder for leading a "kill team" in Afghanistan that targeted unarmed civilians and collected body parts as war trophies. Sgt. Calvin Gibbs [NYT profile], 26, was given a life sentence for 15 convictions including murder, assault and conspiracy connected to the killing of three men not long after he took over the Fifth Brigade of the US Army [official website] Second Division in Afghanistan's Kandahar province in November 2009. Gibbs admitted to cutting and keeping fingers from the corpses as trophies, but claimed that he was merely returning enemy fire and was not motivated to kill. Prosecutors, however, relied on Gibbs' own likening of collecting amputated body parts to the antlers of a deer to characterize the platoon leader as a hunter who killed Afghans "for sport." While Gibbs was given a life sentence, the court also granted the possibility of parole after less than 10 years.