Beverly Perlson of Band of Mothers has sent the following letter to the Secretary of Defense about the horrendous miscarriage of justice that has imprisoned Sgt. Derrick Miller for "pre-meditated murder" for defending himself and his men in Afghanistan.
This is another shameful, shameful case where it becomes clear that the US government would have preferred mourning US casualties to supporting still-living troops who have survived the deadly pitfalls of COIN.
October 31, 2014
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel
1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1000
Dear Secretary Hagel:
Sgt. Derrick Miller is an American son currently serving a life sentence in Ft Leavenworth, convicted of premeditated murder for his defensive actions on the battlefield in Afghanistan on September, 26, 2010. I write to you as the very proud daughter of a father who served in the Navy in WWII, a very proud sister of a brother who served in the Marine Corps in Vietnam, and the very proud mother of a son who served 4 deployments in the 82nd Airborne in this war. With every inch of my being, I love our military and I understand and appreciate the tremendous personal risk our noble Sons and Daughters take who willingly serve to protect this country they must love so dearly. The great benefits of freedom and safety all Americans enjoy, delivered up to them by these brave Americans can never, in my opinion, ever be overstated. I know I will never truly comprehend the horrors and the enormous stress that the men of my family and their brothers have witnessed in war. I struggle with that as I do believe it is the responsibility of every American to appreciate to their deepest depth what these brave defenders of our freedom endure. However, and in spite of my great loyalty to these most noble and courageous Warriors among us, I do believe I am quite capable of questioning intelligently, the unjust and coercive circumstances leading to the imprisonment of some of our Sons in Leavenworth. I am a mother and never have been one for turning Brothers against Brothers and I am certainly not one who supports sacrificing and punishing our American Sons to appease the very brutal and sneaky enemy we are fighting.
My purpose in writing this letter to you is to ask for your review of the troubling "charge" of premeditated murder in Sgt. Derrick Miller’s case, and furthermore, the troubling witness testimony that led to the egregious life sentence of Sgt. Miller. My original intent was to ask for your consideration of a reduction in the sentence of Sgt. Derrick Miller. I believe the charge of premeditated murder is absurd, given the proper protocol this Soldier followed and the coerciveness involved in the witness testimony of his conviction. In my opinion, this conviction, considering all the facts of the case, present a horrifying predicament for all our Soldiers serving in war.
However, as you are presently reviewing the records for transfer of 79 Gitmo detainees out of Gitmo, I respectfully ask for your same review of Sgt Miller’s record, and for that matter, a review of all our Sons serving in Leavenworth in relation to their actions on the battlefield of this war.
I reference this article in support of my request: "Obama goal of Gitmo closure stalled at Pentagon."
I ask that you review Sgt. Derrick Miller's exemplary record and consider a transfer of Sgt. Derrick Miller from Ft Leavenworth, to his family home in Maryland. I, and many Americans who have written letters in support of Sgt. Derrick Miller (150 letters from Americans hand delivered to Congressman Chris Van Hollen on Sept 30th), can assure you, Sgt. Miller would have no intention of returning to the battlefield of Afghanistan. No Sir, Sgt. Derrick Miller is only interested and would be most grateful to return to his family home so that he might be with his family and his two beautiful little girls that he so willingly served 3 deployments to keep safe. I assume that would be the case too for other Soldiers serving in Leavenworth who you would deem appropriate for transfer to their family homes.
With regard to the “strange” circumstances of the conviction of Sgt Miller, I quote the words of Congressman Charlie Rangel, from a letter (attached) he wrote to General Odinero in September of 2012, requesting a clemency hearing for Sgt. Miller:
He wrote to the General, “Due to the complicated circumstances of Sgt Miller’s case, and the extreme nature of war, I believe a clemency hearing would be appropriate.” These words I believe were carefully and correctly chosen, and written by a Veteran, a “Brother.” Sgt Miller was granted a clemency hearing, but clemency was denied.
Complicated circumstances and the extreme nature of war truly do describe this good Soldier’s predicament on September 26, 2010 in the region of Watan Gatu, Afghanistan. What is most troubling to me after reading the trial testimony, is the charge of "premeditated murder."
I ask you Sir, what Soldier who intends to commit murder, asks permission to pursue further questioning of a suspicious Afghan man he sees surveilling his perimeter (and according to trial testimony by Sgt Miller’s fellow Soldiers, their FOB was surrounded on 4 sides by hostile villages, so it seems Sgt. Miller was doing due diligence to protect his men), and then takes two witnesses with him to question the man? And along the way he arms himself. Isn't that required by our Soldiers, to arm themselves for protection, especially if they believe they are approaching the enemy? Sgt Miller’s testimony is that a struggle ensued between himself and the Afghan man Atta Mohammad, and he shot Mohammad in self-defense. Isn’t that the right and duty of an American Soldier on this battlefield in this combat zone when a man (especially one who when questioned claims he’s there to fix a water pump, he has no tools, then he claims he’s there to fix a wire, no tools!) tries to grab his gun?
The rest of this story is just horrendous. Both witnesses at trial admitted changing their story about what happened. At first they said there was a struggle for the gun. Later, their story changed to Derrick shot him, no struggle. Spec. Miller was threatened with prosecution as an accessory to murder, but upon a grant of immunity, he changed his story. The Interpreter, well that is just disgusting what went on. He was paid $630 a month, allowed to live on the base, was promised a VISA to live in the US, was taken to Chicago a couple months before the trial to look around and see if he would like living there, and eventually was given the VISA and is living here somewhere in this country.
There was no forensics done on the body or the gun. In a civilian court, seems to me all this would lead to the case being thrown out but this case was tried in a military court. I ask you Secretary Hagel, what kind of justice is this for a good Soldier who willingly deployed 3 times to serve and protect his country?
Lastly, within 20 minutes of the incident with Sgt Miller, whose fear all along was that his base was about to be attacked, their base was attacked. Since Derrick's gun went off, the base went on 100% security and everyone had moved out of positions they were previously in. The blasts landed where Soldiers would have been sitting and we would have had wounded and possibly killed AMERICAN SONS! However, not one Soldier was hurt and there were no fatalities. As reported by one of the Soldiers in his testimony at trial, this attack came from all 4 villages they were surrounded by, and one of those villages is where Atta Mohammad pointed to as his home.
Sgt. Miller’s NCO report is exemplary. It seems apparent to me that the military had high regard for Sgt Miller as just weeks prior to this incident, Derrick Miller was promoted to Sergeant. In trial testimony, all the Soldiers serving with Sgt. Miller describe him as "outstanding" military character, “excellent military character” “truthful”, his demeanor described as “calm and collected and good head on his shoulders”, and I must add, God Bless the Soldier who, when asked if Sgt Miller could be rehabilitated, he stated there is nothing wrong with Derrick, he's fine!
Secretary Hagel, in talking with members of the military, I am told Sgt. Miller followed proper protocol in this red hot combat zone. However, due to the testimony of two witnesses who changed their stories several times, Sgt. Derrick Miller will now serve a life sentence with the chance of parole in 10 long years.
The trial testimony indicates that this FOB was completely surrounded by hostile villages, and had received no less than 52 separate reports of armed insurgents in the area. Testimony from Soldiers at trial was that their intelligence from numerous previous missions, including the tragically devastating mission in Watawu Afghanistan, had proven time and time again that the villagers surrounding the FOB would routinely wander through with the sole purpose of gathering information on the weapons, personnel and movements of our troops. The reports from Watawu even indicated that the local workers would mysteriously fail to report to work on the days that an attack was imminent. As one Soldier stated “They were a great indicator for us Sir!” Shortly thereafter, our men would find themselves under intense, complex attack. This intelligence, coupled with the hot combat area in which the FOB that Derrick was assigned in Watangatu, made Atta Mohammed's presence inside Derrick's FOB on September 26th dangerous and particularly suspicious. When one Soldier was asked if they were hit the night of the 26th, the Soldier answered that yes, it was a complex attack , “We got hit by 4 villages.” He was then asked, when the complex attack occurred, what did the ANA Soldiers do? He answered that they hid behind the schoolhouse! A further question was asked, “Did they participate at all in defending the Americans?” The answer by the Soldier was “No Sir.”
And we pay these ANA Soldiers??!!!!!!! And then when one of our Sons follows proper protocol to question a suspicious Afghan creeping around the perimeter where he and his Brothers are doing everything they can to protect themselves and each other in their desperate attempt to stay alive and perform their military duties, Sgt. Derrick Miller ends up in Leavenworth. Based on, in my opinion, coerced testimony of witnesses, one choosing immunity rather than being charged as an accessory to murder, and the other, an Afghan interpreter rewarded with money and freedom to enjoy this beautiful country with it’s freedom and liberty Sgt Derrick Miller and his brothers fought and sacrificed to provide! How absurd and disgusting is the ending of this story!
Secretary Hagel, I’ve read that you volunteered to be drafted into the Vietnam War, even rejecting the draft board recommendation that you instead go to college. I also read that you and your brother served in the same infantry squad and that it is reported you saved each others lives at some point. As a mother, I know that is what I raised my Sons to do and I know your mother must have been so very proud of you both. I also know from the brave men in my family that that pure love of brotherhood encompasses and extends to their brothers-in-arms. I read that you earned several awards, including two Purple Hearts. I honor your heroic service and am so very grateful to you and your brother, truly with all my heart, both for your service and your brave willingness to serve during a war that you and all your brothers were treated with such despicable disrespect. My deepest apologies to you and your brother for the ignorance of “some” stupid Americans.
I ask you, Sir, as one who has obviously served so nobly in the extreme nature of war and the horrors of the battlefield, please take under your review, the records of our American Sons in Leavenworth, as you are doing for the 79 detainees in Gitmo. President Obama stated as part of the reason for the release of the 5 top Taliban Commanders in exchange for Bowe Bergdahl that, after all, the war is winding down in Afghanistan. Well Sir, then that reasoning should apply to a review of the records and sentences of our American Sons in Leavenworth, as the war is winding down for them too. I believe and hope that if you start your review of Sgt Derrick Miller’s case, you too will intelligently conclude that this good Sergeant followed protocol to protect his men, and ultimately, he engaged his right to defend himself in a combat zone.
With A Mother’s Heart & A Very Proud Supporter of The Brave Men and Women of the United States Military,
The Band of Mothers