TSC: The case of the U.S. soldier who shot a Kyrgyzstani driver never went to court

Transit Centre Manas has denied information published by online news agency AKIpress on February 24 regarding the “Trial of Zachary Hetfield”, a U.S. airman who shot and killed a Kyrgyzstani driver in December 2006. The trial did not go to court, say TSC officials.

Aigul Karymshakova, Public Relations officer for the Transit Center Manas told reporters of Kloop.kg that the case of Hatfield was subject to a “hearing”, but not a full court appearance.

“The evidence was insufficient to transfer the case to court,” said Karymshakova.

She reported that there was “no information” regarding which agency held hearings on Hatfield.

More detailed data about the hearings on the Hatfield case were published in late December 2010 via the web site Russian Reporter, which issued a series of dispatches from the State Department and U.S. embassies, supposedly originating from the WikiLeaks archive.

In one of them, dated July 2009, the State Department provided a briefing to the U.S. Embassy in Bishkek regarding the case of Hatfield. It recommended communication with the Kyrgyz authorities in respect of the incident.

Hatfield was subject to “administrative measures”, details of which are not disclosed in the dispatch.

“Junior Sergeant Hatfield was subject to severe administrative measures against him, which will have long-term effects and negatively affect his career,” the dispatch promised.

But criminal charges against Hatfield never went to a military court.

According to the dispatch, the officer authorized to initiate court-martial was General Arthur Licht, a commander at the airbase, who, “after reviewing the report of the Article 32 investigation and considering the advice of his staff judge advocate…dismissed the charge against Sr A Hatfield,” the dispatch states.

It said that Licht had ruled for a non-prosecution based “on his own professional and impartial judgment of the facts of the case and the evidence that was available.”

The reasons for Licht’s decision were not explained in the dispatch.

“Under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, a convening authority generally does not explain his or her rationale for a referral decision, so as to preserve the impartiality and independence of the military justice system”, explained the dispatch.

Signed by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, the paper reports that General Licht was given the power of referral because he was not previously involved in the investigation of the case, nor in the chain of command relating to Jr. Sgt Hetfield.

The internal investigation by the U.S. Air Force into the Hatfield case lasted more than 13 months, involved more than 80 agents of the Division of Special Investigations of the U.S. Air Force, who consequently spoke to a total of 160 witnesses, Hilary Clinton reported.

AKIpress error

On February 24, at 13:18, AKIpress quoted TSC director Dwight Sounza as having said that a court decision regarding Hatfield had returned a “not guilty” verdict.

AKIpress reported that “the investigation was conducted in a U.S court.”

The news was reprinted by a number of popular Russian-language outlets, including Lenta.ru and Regnum.

The theme was also widely discussed on popular domestic Internet forum Diesel, but the topic thread was shut down by moderators later on February 25, citing “rumours and speculation.”

On February 25 AKIpress corrected the first paragraph and headline of the article, changing the wording of “not guilty” to “case closed”, but mention of the court remains in the last paragraph.

AKIpress told Kloop.kg that the mistake arose from the fact that the meaning of Sounza’s words “was lost on the interpreter” during the agency’s meeting with the TSC Director on February 24.

A controversial murder

Kyrgyzstani citizen Alexander Ivanov was killed on December 6, 2006 at a checkpoint at Manas airbase.

“The driver went into a security tent to wait for his vehicle to be inspected. As the airman approached the tent, the driver physically threatened him with a knife which was discovered at the scene. The airman drew his 9mm weapon and fired in self-defense,” an official at the air base told RFE/RL in their December 2006 coverage of the event.

Kyrgyz officials, in reaction to the murder, demanded a renegotiation of the terms of residency of the American military base.

Ivanov’s murder also sparked several protests against the air base’s existence in Kyrgyzstan during the period 2007-2008.

According to a dispatch from the U.S. State Department, the wife of Alexander Ivanov received a total of $306,000 in compensation. The first part of the sum was a voluntary transfer by order of the Secretary of Defense to the amount of $255,000 followed by $1,000 from the U.S Air Force to cover funeral expenses, while in 2007, the Department of Defense transferred a further $55,000.

Hillary Clinton reported in her dispatch to the U.S. Embassy in Bishkek that after the incident with Ivanov at the Manas airbase, changes were made so that “such a tragedy would never occur again” at the newly rebranded Transit Centre.

Included amonst the changes are the presence of interpreters at each checkpoint and the supply of “non-fatal” military equipment to personnel working at the checkpoints.

Authors: Bektour Iskender, Eldiyar Arykbaev, Ilya Karimdzhanov, Rinat Tuhvatshin, Anna Lelik

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