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Md. soldier faces court-martial for death of Afghan civilian

By Craig Whitlock
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 24, 2011; A04

An Army National Guardsman from Hagerstown, Md., is facing a court-martial on a charge of murdering an Afghan civilian during an otherwise routine mission in September.

Sgt. Derrick Anthony Miller, a decorated soldier who has deployed twice to Iraq and once to Afghanistan, shot an unarmed Afghan man in the head at close range on Sept. 26 in Laghman province in eastern Afghanistan, according to military prosecutors.

Miller had detained the Afghan, Atta Mohammed, for questioning after the man entered a security perimeter in the town of Masamute Bala, Army documents show. Although Army investigators have not identified a motive, they said Miller had threatened to shoot Mohammed if he did not cooperate and later did so after the victim became agitated and begged for his life.

The soldier has said he acted in self-defense. At a court hearing on Dec. 15 at Fort Campbell, Ky., Miller submitted an unsworn statement in which he said he fired after Mohammed tried to grab his 9mm pistol.

According to Army documents and testimony in the case, another U.S. soldier and an Afghan interpreter witnessed the shooting and disputed Miller's assertion that the victim had reached for his gun.

Yar Mohammed, the dead man's son, told the Reuters news agency in an account published Wednesday that his father was "a little bit deaf" and did not heed the commands of American soldiers.

Miller's court-martial is scheduled for June 6. His attorney, Charles W. Gittins of Middletown, Va., declined to comment. Miller remains on active duty at Fort Campbell pending trial.

He was released from detention in November after a military judge ruled that he did not pose a flight risk, Gittins said.

A member of the Maryland National Guard, Miller was deployed to Afghanistan with another National Guard unit and was attached to the 101st Airborne Division.

Lt. Col. Patrick Seiber, a spokesman for the division, said that the shooting was immediately reported and investigated and that no other soldiers were suspected of wrongdoing.

"It was definitely an isolated case," Seiber said in a telephone interview Wednesday from Afghanistan. "It didn't take long to figure out what happened."

He said the Army paid an unspecified sum of money to Mohammed's family in compensation for his death.

Family members cited by Reuters said they had not received any payments.

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