The attorney for a U.S. Army National Guardsman charged in the death of an Afghan man argued in military court Monday that the shooting was in self-defense.
Sgt. Derrick Miller of Hagerstown, Md., is on trial this week at Fort Campbell, charged with premeditated murder in the shooting death last September in eastern Afghanistan.
During opening arguments, defense attorney Charles Gittins said Miller was questioning the man who walked through a defensive perimeter set up by his unit. The man has previously been identified by the military as Atta Mohammed, but he was not identified in court.
At the time of the shooting, Miller was assigned to a Connecticut National Guard unit that was attached to the 101st Airborne Division, based at Fort Campbell on the Kentucky-Tennessee state line. He could face a maximum penalty of life in prison if convicted.
Gittins said Miller wanted to question the man about where he was going and why he was giving inconsistent statements.
"He believed this man posed a threat to his unit," Gittins argued in front of a panel of 10 military members.
But prosecuting attorneys argued that Miller took a gun from another soldier, stood over the man as he was lying down and shot him in the head. Capt. James Kitchen said Miller asked the Afghan if he wanted to die and repeatedly called him a liar.
Another soldier who witnessed the shooting testified Monday that the Afghan man didn't appear to be a threat.
Spc. Charles Miller, a Maryland National Guardsman, told the panel that he gave Sgt. Miller, who isn't related, his 9mm pistol and was standing nearby during the questioning.
"He wasn't fighting back or arguing," Spc. Miller said, although he noted the man appeared not to be telling the truth at times.
Spc. Miller said he saw Sgt. Miller straddle the Afghan man as he lay on his back.
"Sgt. Miller leaned in, stuck the pistol on the side of his head and pulled the trigger," Spc. Miller said.
After the shooting, Spc. Miller said, the sergeant dragged the body to some latrines and handed back the pistol.
Testimony will resume Tuesday.