A former Army lieutenant who was convicted in 2009 of killing an Iraqi detainee suspected of being an Al Qaeda terrorist received a pardon from President Trump Monday evening.
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders announced Michael Behenna, of Edmond, Okla., would receive a full pardon after he was sentenced by a military court to 25 years in prison for unpremeditated murder in a combat zone.
“After judgment, however, the U.S. Army’s highest appellate court noted concern about how the trial court handled Mr. Behenna’s claim of self-defense,” Sanders said in a statement. “Additionally, the Army Clemency and Parole Board reduced his sentence to 15 years and paroled him as soon as he was eligible in 2014 – just 5 years into his sentence.
Sanders characterized Behenna as a “model prisoner” when he was serving his sentence.
A year after Behenna deployed to Iraq in 2007, he was on the scene when two members of his platoon were killed in a roadside explosion. An intelligence report released after the soldiers’ deaths claimed then-Iraqi operative Ali Mansur likely helped organize the attack.
The military did not have conclusive evidence tying Mansur to the attack and he was interrogated and released. After Mansur was freed, Behenna took Mansur to a railroad culvert, interrogated him at gunpoint about the roadside bombing without authorization, stripped him naked, shot him twice and left his body.
Iraqi police found Mansur’s body the next day.
Then-24-year-old Behenna maintained he killed Mansur in self-defense after the suspected terrorist threw a chunk of concrete at him and reached for the lieutenant’s handgun. However, military prosecutors argued during his 2009 court-martial that Behenna had his weapon pointed at the prisoner first and the lieutenant murdered Mansur to avenge the loss of the two soldiers.
Behenna’s case “has attracted broad support from the military, Oklahoma elected officials, and the public,” Sanders said. “Thirty-seven generals and admirals, along with a former Inspector General of the Department of Defense, signed a brief in support of Mr. Behenna’s self-defense claim.”
“In light of these facts, Mr. Behenna is entirely deserving of his Grant of Executive Clemency,” she added.
Director of the American Civil Liberties Union National Security Project slammed the White House for pardoning the former first lieutenant, arguing the president is endorsing “a murder that violated the military’s own code of justice.”
“The military appeals court found Behenna disobeyed orders, became the aggressor against his prisoner, and had no justification for killing a naked, unarmed Iraqi man in the desert, away from an actual battlefield,” Shamsi said in a statement.
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