Fri March 16, 2012
Soldier Accused Of Killing 16 Afghans Headed To U.S.
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block. And we begin this hour in Washington state, at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. It was the home base for the American soldier who allegedly killed 16 civilians in a shooting rampage in Afghanistan nearly a week ago. The military is bringing that soldier back to the U.S., reportedly to Fort Leavenworth in Kansas. At Joint Base Lewis-McChord today, a top general gave his first statements on the case. NPR's Martin Kaste was there, and he's with us now. And, Martin, tell us more about the general who spoke today and what he told you.
MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: Well, his name is General David M. Rodriguez, and he's head of something called U.S. Army Forces Command. Basically, it's his responsibility to make sure that the soldiers going overseas are prepared to go overseas, and that includes their mental health. There have been some reports that the soldier believed to have committed this massacre somehow snapped. And so General Rodriguez has been asked about whether he thinks the mental health screening of soldiers going back overseas has been adequate.
GENERAL DAVID RODRIGUEZ: I'm confident there's sufficient screening going on prior to repeated - or during a repeated deployment. We continue to learn and get better at that every time.
KASTE: There have also been, though, some questions about this particular base where I am right now - Joint Base Lewis-McChord, just south of Tacoma. There's been a lot of bad headlines coming out of here involving soldiers based here. Not only was this soldier based here, there was the so-called kill team, a group of soldiers who killed Afghan civilians for sport. They were convicted at a court-martial here. There have been suicides. And so the general was asked if he thought there was something different going on here.
RODRIGUEZ: There's nothing different here than most places. Again, those things happen. We - everybody knows that doesn't reflect our standards and our values.
KASTE: So as you can hear, the Army is very keen on defending the reputation of this particular installation which has been crucial in some of these overseas engagements.
BLOCK: And, Martin, you mentioned mental health screening. It's unclear whether the soldier who's believed responsible had mental health issues, although that has been reported, right?
KASTE: Yes. We don't know for sure. I mean, there have been leaks from military sources that he had a brain injury on a previous tour of duty in Iraq. There's also been reports that he had marital troubles, and that might had been a factor. His new civilian lawyer here in Seattle has denied the marital trouble aspect vehemently. Like yesterday, you know, he said the family is very strong. That's not an issue. But he did raise the possibility of stress. And he also told us - for the first time - that there had been an incident at that forward operating base in Afghanistan just the day before where one of the soldiers was grievously injured - one of this soldier's friends, apparently, had a leg blown off.
BLOCK: Now, we mentioned that the Army is flying this soldier back to the United States. What's the next step in the legal process?
KASTE: Well, once he's in the U.S., his civilian lawyer very much wants to speak with him. He really doesn't know all the facts of the case yet. This soldier also has two military lawyers already. But the formal charging may take weeks, and the Army has been very intent on keeping his name secret until he's charged. They're citing security reasons for that, especially for his family. Apparently, they are now here on the base being kept in what's called a security situation.
BLOCK: OK. Martin - that's NPR's Martin Kaste outside Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state. Martin, thanks very much.
KASTE: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.