The Oklahoma Attorney General is seeking a pardon for a U.S. Army soldier who was convicted of murder while deployed to Iraq in 2008.
Former 1st Lt. Michael Behenna was convicted of unpremeditated murder for the shooting of an Iraqi man who was in his custody and reportedly had connections to Al Qaeda.
The incident occurred when Behenna was trying to find the people responsible for an IED that claimed the lives of two men in his unit. The Ranger-qualified infantry lieutenant was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division as the platoon leader for 5th Platoon, Delta Company of the 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment and deployed to Iraq in 2007.
On April 21, 2008, Behenna’s platoon was returning to their base with two detainees when their convoy was hit by an IED. One of the platoon’s MRAPs was destroyed and two soldiers, Specialists Adam Kohlhaas and Steven Christofferson, were killed and several others grievously wounded.
On May 5, Behenna received information on a man -suspected by military intelligence to be working for Al Qaeda in Iraq- that he was responsible for the attack on April 21. Acting on this intelligence, Behenna’s platoon raided a house in Butoma where they found the man identified by military intelligence, Ali Mansur Mohamed, along with a cache of ammunition, an RPK light machine gun and a passport with Syrian visas. After securing Mansur and collecting the arms cache, Behenna’s platoon returned to base with Mansur and turned him over to military intelligence agents for questioning.
Less than two weeks later, Mansur was ordered released due to military intelligence having insufficient evidence to hold him any longer.
Behenna’s platoon was tasked with the return of Mansur. On May 16, while returning the prisoner to a checkpoint as ordered, Behenna and his platoon stopped at a bridge in the northern oil refinery town of Baiji.
According to the interpreter, “Lieutenant Behenna started talking with Ali Mansur and Sergeant Warner followed them. Behenna and Warner started taking off Ali Mansur’s clothes with their knives.
They then cut his handcuffs.” Behenna ordered the detainee to sit, the interpreter said, adding that Behenna seemed to be keen to get information from the detainee regarding the IED attack on U.S. troops in April.
Behenna asked the detainee several times: “What do you know you have to tell me.” “Ali Mansur said I will talk to you but Lieutenant Behenna pulled [the] trigger and killed him,” the interpreter said, in English.
“Before we started the patrol, Lieutenant Behenna told Ali Mansur ‘I will kill you’.
“I thought Lieutenant Behenna was trying to scare him. I did not think he would go through (with it),” the interpreter added. “I was standing 10 meters back during the shooting – I could see everything even if it was getting dark – and Sergeant Warner was next to me.”
Warner then “took the grenade from his pocket, pulled the safety ring, walked around and put the grenade under Ali Mansur’s head.” “Then they hid his clothes, and Behenna and Warner went back.” Two U.S. soldiers from the same battalion as the accused also testified against Warner. Corporal Cody Atkinson said that Behenna and Warner, armed with a grenade, took Mohammed out of the vehicle and under the bridge.
After the killing, Behenna ordered the platoon back to the base and the next day local villagers found Mansur’s naked, burned body in the culvert.
On July 31, 2008 Behenna was relieved of his command and charged with the premeditated murder of Ali Mansur Mohamed. In November 2008 Behenna was returned to Fort Campbell and assigned to security duties pending a court-martial.
Behenna maintained his innocence, saying he acted in self-defense but was still given a 15-year prison sentence at Fort Leavenworth.
Behenna was paroled in 2014 after serving five of his 15-years sentence, but Attorney General Mike Hunter is asking President Trump to pardon him.
According to KFOR, Hunter believes critical errors were made that affected his self-defense arguments during his court-martial.
“Michael Behenna was a courageous soldier, a great leader and does not deserve to be labeled a convicted felon for the rest of his life,” Hunter said. “He has more than paid for the crimes he was convicted of while bravely serving our country in combat. He and his family have gone through enough. I encourage President Trump to act quickly and compassionately by pardoning Behenna, to give him back the freedoms he deserves.”
“Does this situation – with incorrect jury instructions on a key issue and unlawfully withheld evidence – really display the type of justice we believe is appropriate for an otherwise outstanding soldier, who was attempting to protect his country and fellow soldiers from terror attacks?” Hunter asked.
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