Exclusive: President Obama frees terrorists while U.S. soldiers in Leavenworth. Sgt. Derrick Miller story
While President Barack Obama gave get-out-of-jail-free-cards to five top Taliban commanders from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in exchange for POW Bowe Bergahl, U.S. Army Sergeant Derrick Miller remains in Leavenworth prison, in Kansas, sentenced to life with no hope of a sentence reduction, let alone clemency.
Meanwhile, today, veterans of the Iraq war and their families watch in alarm and horror as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) violently seize control over significant parts of both Iraq and Syria, questioning whether their sacrifice was worth it.
Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the head of ISIS, a Sunni Al Qaeda splinter group, was reportedly set free in 2009, from the U.S.’s now-closed Camp Bucca near Umm Qasr in Iraq.
Sgt. Miller was on his third combat deployment, after having already served one in Iraq and another in Afghanistan, when on September 26, 2010, the shooting death of an Afghan national, Atta Mohammed, occurred.
During Miller’s deployments, he not only lost friends on the battlefield, he lost his freedom while serving the country he took an oath to protect.
In July 2011 a 10-member military jury at Fort Campbell in Kentucky found Miller guilty of pre-meditated murder and sentenced him to life in prison with a chance of patrol.
Miller says he acted in self defense while serving in a red zone, in a hostile area of Afghanistan that was under constant enemy fire.
Borrowing from President Obama, if Obama had a son he would look like Sgt. Derrick Miller.
In an interview Miller’s mother, Reneé Myers, said, “Derrick told me that his military training prepared him for the physical and mental challenges of incarceration. I can tell you that he has handled this unfathomable situation with such resolve and strength that it makes me even more proud to call him my son. With each passing day, he shows me new depths of character, and remains true to the outstanding man he’s always been. At the time of the shooting, he was in a hot zone—had lost men days earlier. Derrick’s main concern was for the safety of the men under his command, and the security of the area they were forced to take refuge in.”
Miller, now divorced, is a father of two young children. He joined the National Guard in 2006. He was assigned to a Connecticut National Guard unit, was recently promoted, and attached to the 101st Airborne Division at the time of the shooting in Afghanistan.
That fateful day in 2010, as Myers explained, “My son stopped Atta Mohammad for questioning after he walked through a defensive perimeter that had been set up by the U.S. Army. This man was positively identified to him by one of his men as the driver of a truckload of combatants that had passed through a vehicle check point the previous day. This was no case of mistaken identity – the soldier had patted the man down during the security check, and had the opportunity to observe him at close quarters.”
“Additionally,” Myers added, “There were duffel bags with changes of civilian clothes in them, as well as empty 55 gallon drums – apparent IED making materials – found in the back of the vehicle along with the men. To see this same man inside their defenses was a threat that could not be ignored.”
Upon further questioning, Miller quickly grew suspicious of Mohammed’s motives, not only because he had been identified as an enemy combatant the day before, but because he gave inconsistent answers during questioning. At first Mohammed claimed to be an electrician coming to fix a downed power line, and then he said that he was there to fix a water pump – except he did not carry any tools to work on either task.
Mohammed had also been observed with two other men who he claimed were his sons – who were sent off in opposite directions. Neither direction corresponded with the direction Mohammed stated was where he lived when he was stopped by Miller.
This was a tactic frequently utilized by the Afghan locals to gather intelligence—a tactic that had caused heavy U.S. casualties and cruel permanent injuries when insurgents planted explosives afterwards during previous missions. Miller had been briefed on this tactic prior to this deployment.
As the questioning between Miller and Mohammad became more intense, there was a struggle. Mohammed attempted to grab Miller’s gun. As Myers said, “He had no choice but to make the decision his training demanded – to shoot in order to neutralize the threat to himself and his men.”
No forensic or physical evidence at Sgt. Miller’s trial
According to Myers there were numerous disturbing aspects to Miller’s case.
For instance, Atta Mohammed’s name was never mentioned during the court proceedings.
One witness was given the choice of receiving immunity to testify against Miller, or be charged as an accessory. Another witness, an Afghan interpreter, was paid $630 per month and given a visa to live in the U.S. in exchange for his testimony against Miller.
This witness was taken to Chicago to see if he would like to live there before the trial. Both of these witnesses changed their stories several times during the case, as Myers explained, “Because there were no consequences for them doing so.”
In addition, there was a lack of physical or forensic evidence presented at trial. There was no effort to preserve or collect it at the time of the incident. As a result it has been destroyed.
In any sound investigation, evidence collection at the time of the incident is critical to obtain true justice.
Mohammed’s body was returned to his family before an autopsy could be conducted and forensics collected. His fingerprints were never taken to be tested against Miller’s gun. Miller’s gun was never tested. Because forensics was not gathered at the time of the shooting, the trajectory of the bullet was not determined.
“The directive to observe the religious customs of the local people was determined to be more important than Derrick’s constitutional right to a fair and thorough investigation and trial,” Myers said.
Was Miller’s skin under Mohammed’s fingernails—which could have confirmed or disputed whether or not a struggle took place before the shooting?
We will never know because, again, forensic evidence was not collected.
“In a civilian court,” Myers said, “Derrick’s case would have been thrown out for a lack of evidence.”
Moreover, considering Miller’s base was in a red zone under enemy fire and Afghan insurgents made handmade explosives, like IEDs, the fact that Mohammed’s fingerprints were not tested for explosive material was an egregious failure to lady justice and to Miller.
“I’ve read countless articles over the years of men who were unjustly imprisoned for crimes they did not commit—who served 10, 15, 25 or more years and were later released due to forensic evidence which exonerated them. These men were given their lives back because of evidence that was produced which proved their innocence… that will never happen for my son because that evidence has been destroyed,” Myers said, adding. “The most painful and difficult thing for Derrick in this entire ordeal has been the separation from his beautiful little girls – Karina, who turned 8 in June, and Kaitlyn who is 5. That was a huge blow to a strong man as those girls are the ray of sunshine in a dark and difficult situation. Even so, he still continues to reach out to them in the only way he has left – by phone and through letters.”
A few short hours after Mohammed’s death, Miller’s unit was attacked by Afghan insurgents on three sides. The attack was precise and complex, targeting the exact positions and locations of equipment, weaponry and personnel as they were prior to going on 100% security alert following the shooting incident.
“Had they not been alerted, they would have been exactly where the enemy had reported. As a result of their shift in positions, no American lives were lost that day. Many of the men Derrick served with testified to the fact that they would not be alive today were it not for his actions, and that they would serve with him again without hesitation,” Myers said.
Is racism a factor in Miller’s life sentence?
In the last year, white soldiers in Leavenworth have been paroled for cases with similar or even with more egregious facts than Miller’s case. Miller is an African American soldier who is entering his third year of incarceration, yet he is not eligible for a sentence reduction which white soldiers in Leavenworth were afforded.
“As though the circumstances of Derrick’s conviction weren’t bad enough, the fact that he is the only African American solider in this type of situation and has received no relief is a rather glaring indictment for racial bias,” Myers said.
Thus far, Congressman Charlie Rangel of New York has written a letter on Miller’s behalf.
“We were shocked and completely blind-sided when Derrick was found guilty. I could not breathe. I felt like I had been punched in my stomach. I still wake up every day and cannot believe my son is in prison,” said Myers. “I asked Derrick If he could give any advice to soldiers and their families going through an ordeal similar to yours, and he told me this: “Soldiers and servicemen who think that the military justice system is just, and that everything will work out in the end – DON’T BELIEVE IT! You must be aggressive about defending your freedom, or it will be taken from you in the blink of an eye. To the powers that be, you are simply a pawn.’”
Beverly Perlson of the Band of Mothers, who has visited Miller in Leavenworth, and has been aiding Myers’ through the frustrating Washington labyrinth of meeting with Congressmen about her son’s case, in an interview said, “It is an outrage that this administration continues to release terrorists with the blood of Americans on their hands yet America’s sons sit in Leavenworth for their actions on a deadly lopsided battlefield.”
“It is wrong that Afghan mothers see their sons released and have never spent a dime on their defense because the American taxpayer has provided their legal representation yet American mothers incur huge legal fees trying to secure their sons freedom,” Perlson said. “What is good enough for the terrorists should be good enough for our sons. Our sons should be released from Leavenworth immediately.”
In 2009 Perlson was instrumental in temporarily stopping the Obama administration from transferring Gitmo detainees toThomson Correction Facility in Thomson, Illinois. As the Associated Press recently reported, the Obama administration is trying again.
While the Obama administration, reportedly, quietly released 12 more detainees from a secretive prison in Afghanistan, and President Obama acknowledged that the five top Taliban commanders he released days earlier from Gitmo could “absolutely” take up arms against America again, Miller remains in Leavenworth.
“One of the hardest things, after the shocking and devastating guilty verdict, was for Derrick to adjust too was the lockdown at night,” said Myers. “Derrick said that it was difficult at first not to have the freedom to do the smallest things, like get up to stretch his legs, go work out, or even get a snack. The absolute worst part is being separated from his young daughters who need their father.”
As I previously reported, President Obama has been releasing terrorists since he first took office. Miller is not the only U.S. soldier serving time in Leavenworth prison.
For more information on Sgt. Miller’s case visit: www.FreeDerrickMiller.org
For added context and latest stats as of March 2017 on President Bush’s release of Gitmo detainees see: Pentagon official: Release of Guantanamo detainees has led to American deaths, Washington Post:
“The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) said this month in its most recent report on former Guantanamo detainees that of the 532 detainees released by Bush, 111 of them are confirmed to have returned to terrorist activities. Twenty-nine of those are dead, 25 are back in custody and 57 remain free. An additional 74 of the 532 detainees are suspected of returning to the battlefield.”
Photos of Derrick Miller and one of his daughters courtesy of Reneé Myers.
Update: May 15, 2015. Freedom of Information Act Request (FOIA) from the Department of the Army. U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command on Sgt. Miller case. Sworn statements after the shooting. DA Form 2823
Update: March 24, 2016: Obama admin official admits released Gitmo detainees have killed Americans