Sergeant, U.S. Army
It was September 2010, and SGT Derrick Miller was in Masamute Bala, a village located in north-Eastern Afghanistan. It was only days after American soldiers were engaged in a nearby combat firefight with the Taliban. Tensions were high and soldiers were diligently guarding the area.
During a combat mission, Miller’s attention was drawn to an Afghan national who had penetrated the defense perimeter set up by the US Army. The Afghan man was positively identified as Atta Mohammed by another soldier under SGT Miller’s command who recognized him from a detainment the previous day. Mohammed had been detained by U.S. Forces on suspicion of escorting the enemy to a war zone.
The soldier who identified Mohammed patted him down and had the opportunity to observe the man in close quarters, so there was no question as to who he was. SGT Miller was sent to question the Afghan national after observing the suspicious behavior of the man as he reconnoitered their defense perimeter. It appeared that the man was gathering information, and since he was already identified as an enemy combatant, SGT Miller was acting instinctively to protect his unit by detaining this man. In an open area with an Afghani interpreter and the other US soldier present, Miller began to question Mohammed. The more the former detainee spoke, the more Miller grew suspicious of his intentions.
First, he claimed to be on the premises to do electrical work. And then his story changed; Mohammed then claimed he was on site to fix a plumbing problem. However, he had no tools on him and no apparent means of carrying out the repairs he was supposedly there to address.
Miller’s comrade and the Afghani interpreter observed as Mohammed grew more and more irate under questioning. Originally accompanied by two companions whom he claimed were his sons and helpers, Mohammed was now alone and jittery. His associates hadn’t performed any utility work and returned to the village from separate directions.
The former detainee’s falsehoods weren’t adding up and he knew that with each second, his shoddily crafted alibi was falling apart. During the interrogation, the insurgent attempted to grab Miller’s weapon. A struggle ensued and Mohammed was shot and killed.
Within 45 minutes, Miller’s unit was flooded by the enemy in a meticulously orchestrated attack. Such well-planned encounters are often the result of information gathering by men, like Mohammed, who infiltrate US Army camps and collect vital statistics that help insurgents take as many American lives as possible. But the soldiers in Miller’s unit were blessed. After Miller thwarted the former detainee’s personal attack, the soldiers were on high alert and no American lives were lost that day. During SGT Miller’s trial, all the soldiers who appeared from his unit testified that the enemy had to have reconnoitered their position closely in order to attack in the manner they did. There was also testimony that the incident with SGT Miller forced the entire unit into full alert / 100% security, which prepared the soldiers for the attack.
For the total of WWII, Korea and Vietnam, there were only seven soldiers or Marines convicted of a crime during combat. Since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began, 213 American service men have been convicted of such “crimes."
Unfortunately, Miller is among the dismal number of our brave defenders who are sent to fight wars on foreign soil and are subsequently punished for being good soldiers and Marines.
After an unjust courts-martial, Miller was convicted of pre-meditated murder. The victim? Atta Mohammed, the former detainee who was instrumental in gathering intel for an attack that could have resulted in the loss of precious American lives. The men in Miller’s unit testified that Mohammed’s presence corroborated the belief that the enemy had to have reconnoitered the unit’s position via an on-site surveillance.
Despite the testimony of Miller’s fellow soldiers and record of his admirable military career, Miller was sentenced to life in prison with the chance of parole.
For the past several years, Miller has missed celebrating Father’s Day with his two young girls and without a successful appeal to his sentencing, he is destined to miss many, many more.