On July 31, 2008, Army Ranger 1st Lt. Michael Behenna
was charged with the premeditated murder of Ali Mansur, a known Al-Qaeda agent
operating near Albu Toma, an area north of Baghdad. Seven months later, the leader of the 18-member Delta Company, 5th platoon of the Army 101st Airborne Infantry Division was convicted of unpremeditated murder and sentenced to 25 years confinement at Fort Leavenworth. Though his sentence has been reduced to 15 years, Behenna remains behind bars for a killing that should have been deemed self-defense. Stories about Michael
have been featured on this site several times. Today, I share the latest update from Michael’s parents, Scott and Vicki Behenna:
To the thousands of Michael Supporters,
God bless each of you. We have been in this fight together for the past two years and your encouragement and support has been the driving force behind all we have been able to accomplish. Last year, the Clemency Board gave Michael a reduction of 5 years off his 20 year sentence. On December 2nd we again pleaded Michael's case before the Army Clemency Board. We pointed out to them that Michael's sentence was 50% larger than the highest sentence given to any soldier convicted of unpremeditated murder in a combat zone. We also addressed Michael's unblemished record in prison for the past two years, his many accomplishments while incarcerated, and his unblemished civilian record. We stressed that he was not a threat to anyone and offered many letters of reference including those from the Governor of Oklahoma, the Oklahoma Attorney General, Law Enforcement Agency Heads, and all of the supporters who took the time to write letters of support for Michael. In addition, the entire Oklahoma Congressional Delegation offered their support for Michael’s clemency. We also had three letters of immediate employment for Michael upon his release. After our arguments to the Clemency Board, the Board had no additional uncompleted factors for Michael, and the Chairman of the Clemency Board stated that Michael had “turned the corner.” Unfortunately, on December 22nd, Michael was notified that all of our efforts fell on deaf ears and he was denied even ONE day of clemency by the Clemency Board and the Secretary of the Army John McHugh. We have no idea why they denied Michael’s clemency request and can only surmise that the Secretary of the Army desires Michael to spend a substantial amount of time in prison.
Michael's Appeal Hearing before the Army Appeal Court took place on December 9th in Washington, DC and was well attended by Michael's family and a courtroom full of supporters who drove many hours to attend the hearing. In the Appeal’s Hearing the Army seemed to be taking a new position on the facts of the case. During Michael's trial in February 2009 the crux of the entire case revolved around whether Ali Mansur was sitting and executed or standing and reaching for Michael’s gun. The Army prosecutor’s theory was that Michael executed Mansur while Mansur sat on a rock in a culvert. Michael's testimony was that he was questioning Mansur in the culvert when Mansur stood up and lunged for his weapon. The Army prosecutors claimed Michael's testimony was "impossible" and "self-serving" despite all the forensic evidence supporting Michael's version (including their own expert witness who they sent home rather than have testify.) During the appeal’s hearing the Army seemed to back away from its original theory stating that even if Mansur was standing and reaching for Michael’s weapon Michael would still be guilty of murder because he lost his right to defend himself by pointing a loaded gun at Mansur. Telling a soldier that they lost their right to defend themselves in a war zone….against a known terrorist… is just plain crazy talk by people who have never been in harm’s way. It reinforces the point made by a newly elected Congressman who said that soldiers have to watch their back against JAG officers even more than an enemy that is trying to kill them. But the most disappointing thing we learned at the hearing was that a decision on Michael’s appeal could take as long as 15 months.
I promise you as we have promised Michael: we will never cease fighting for Michael’s freedom no matter how high or how hard the climb. When we spoke to Michael this week he wanted us to wish each of you a blessed Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year; and to let you know his spirit is as strong as ever because of all YOUR support - for that, we Thank You!
We appreciate the many letters to Michael inspiring him to fight through this ordeal. We encourage you to continue to write to him with your kind words of support (his prison address can be found on the website, DefendMichael.com.) Also please continue to write to your Congressmen and Senators to ensure that they are aware of your feelings about our government treating its enemies better than we treat our bravest heroes.
Here are some articles by two writers who attended the Appellate Hearing:
Peace to you and your families,
Scott & Vicki Behenna
To learn more about Michael’s story, read the three-dozen-plus posts
I’ve written about him during the past 18 months or download the unofficial brochure
about his case (right) that is current as of March 2010.