Editorials

War criminal freed from Leavenworth shouldn’t get Trump pardon on Memorial Day — or ever

National Guardsman released from Fort Leavenworth after eight years

U.S. Army National Guard Sgt. Derrick Miller was convicted of murder in the 2010 fatal shooting of an Afghan man. He was released on Monday, May 20, 2019 from a military correctional facility on Fort Leavenworth in northeastern Kansas.
Up Next
U.S. Army National Guard Sgt. Derrick Miller was convicted of murder in the 2010 fatal shooting of an Afghan man. He was released on Monday, May 20, 2019 from a military correctional facility on Fort Leavenworth in northeastern Kansas.

Why would we want our military and our government to be less respected around the world? That’s what pardoning a few select war criminals would accomplish.

That’s why so many military leaders have asked President Donald Trump to rethink his dangerous plan to commemorate Memorial Day by — here’s a new one — issuing presidential pardons to Americans who not only served dishonorably, but criminally, in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Former Sgt. Derrick Miller, of Maryland, who was released from a military prison at Fort Leavenworth this week, is among those hoping the president erases his guilty verdict with a pardon over the holiday weekend.

Eight years ago, a military court at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, found Miller guilty of premeditated murder in the 2010 death of an unarmed Afghan civilian in Eastern Afghanistan.

Two witnesses said the man had strayed past a security perimeter, and Miller stopped him for questioning. The suspect wound up on the ground and on his back as Miller, who had grabbed another soldier’s gun and was standing over him, yelled that he was going to kill him if he didn’t stop lying about what he was doing there.

Maybe 30 seconds later, the witnesses said, he made good on that threat. Miller shot him the man in the head and dragged his body to a latrine.

Prosecuting attorney Major Matt Calarco, now a judge at Fort Campbell, said at the trial that Miller took immediate credit for the slaying, saying, “I shot him. He was a liar.’’

Do we need to say that American troops don’t execute liars?

The defense argued that he shot the man in self defense — and that since the unit was attacked not an hour later, Miller had saved lives by putting his team on edge and on alert. But the witnesses disputed that, and the jury deliberated for less than three hours before finding Miller guilty.

In his third combat deployment in four years, Miller had been assigned to a Connecticut National Guard unit and attached to the 101st Airborne. “Derrick Miller made a bad decision, but he deserves the opportunity for life” in prison, one of his defense lawyers argued. His sentence was reduced to 20 years last year, and he was granted parole in March. But he was not exonerated; the verdict was not overturned or found to have been wrongly decided.

There’s no doubt that Miller has been through hell, or that no one should do three tours in four years, or that his daughters needed him all that time, or that every day he was in prison was terrible for his mother, who on the day he got out said she was planning to make him lasagna.

When he was released, supporters sang “God Bless America” and Miller said the military should change its rules of engagement so that “Monday morning quarterbacks” would no longer be able to hold fighters in check. But it’s our rules of engagement that at least in theory separate us from those we fight.

This effort to level any moral difference between us and our adversaries is patriotism turned upside-down.

And a pardon simply isn’t justified, even if in the court of scattered conservative conspiracy theorists and two Republican congressmen from Texas, Miller is a hero who took out a terrorist and deserves our praise.

Supposedly, the fact that Miller shook hands with some of those with whom he served after he was found guilty shows that he couldn’t have been in the wrong, because who would shake hands with a murderer?

His supporters also claim that those who testified against him — a fellow National Guardsman and an Afghan translator — were pressured and bribed to lie. The proof? Gateway Pundit, a fringe conservative blog that specializes in conspiracy theories, reports that the translator “was brought to the U.S. in January of 2011 and lived on Fort Campbell in a hotel on the base at $630 per month with a van dedicated to his transportation wherever he wanted to go — all of this was on the taxpayer dime. Morality is void in this case, save for the morality of Sgt. Miller.”

We actually promised to bring all of those Afghans and Iraqis who risked their lives translating for our troops to this country. They are in danger now, too, as a result of that service, and it’s to our shame that we have not been true to our word on granting them special visas. Would an Afghan be expected to come to Fort Campbell on his own dime to testify? Battlefield translating, even when it doesn’t get you killed, doesn’t pay that well.

Much more centrally, why would the Army want to falsely incriminate one of its own? To protect the Afghan allies that we treat better than our own troops, according to those who think we need to rid our military of “snowflakes.”

All of this appeals to the all-talk president, who likes parades but not POWs, and got a kick out of the nickname “Mad Dog,” but not out of the defense secretary who told him truths he didn’t want to hear. Trump has repeatedly said he knows more than our military leaders do — and that in fact, all you have to do is “bomb the s--- out of” an adversary.

But right now, he should listen to former Marine Commandant Gen. Charles Krulak, who said in a statement that, “If President Trump follows through on reports that he will mark Memorial Day by pardoning individuals accused or convicted of war crimes, he will betray these ideals and undermine decades of precedent in American military justice that has contributed to making our country’s fighting forces the envy of the world.”

“Disregard for the law undermines our national security” and delights terrorists, said the two-time Purple Heart recipient and son of the man considered the ultimate Marine, Lt. Gen. Victor “Brute” Krulak, whose nickname would no doubt have earned him a job offer from the president, too.

Others under consideration for a pardon include Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher, a Navy SEAL charged with shooting unarmed civilians in Iraq; Army Maj. Mathew Golsteyn, who is charged with killing an unarmed Afghan; and three Marine snipers who urinated on the corpse of an Afghan fighter.

The president has already pardoned Army Lt. Michael Behenna, convicted a decade ago of killing an Iraqi during an interrogation.

A visit to Arlington Cemetery is a good way to mark Memorial Day, as Trump did on Thursday. But there’s no need to make everyone buried there roll over.

Related stories from Kansas City Star

  Comments