Corey Clagett was a 21-year-old U.S. Army private in the 101st Airborne Division on a mission deep inside Al Qaeda-controlled territory in Iraq when, he says, he followed an order that would change his life forever.

It was May 9, 2006, and Clagett’s squad had been dropped on to a tiny lake island 200 miles north of Baghdad. They were told it was a terrorist training camp, and members would later testify the rules of engagement were to kill all military-aged males in the area. When they caught three men hiding in a house, the squad’s leader ordered Clagett and three others to let them go – and shoot them as they fled.

“I was just a private. I looked up to the higher officers. We thought they were following the rules,” Clagett, who was released earlier this year after serving 10 years at the U.S. Penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kan., told “I followed their orders and thought it was the right call, but it wasn’t the case.”

Shooting unarmed men in the back as they fled violated the most basic rules of war, and following orders is no defense if the orders were unlawful. Clagett pleaded guilty to murder, attempted murder, conspiracy and obstruction of justice.

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