Supporters of Army Ranger Serving 15-Year Prison Term Urge Granting of Parole pb

LT. MICHAEL BEHENNA, IMPRISONED AT FT. LEAVENWORTH, ELIGIBLE FOR FREEDOM IN JANUARY

by Sharon Rondeau

The Ft. Leavenworth Disciplinary Barracks opened in May 1875. Its mission is to “incarcerate U.S. military prisoners sentenced to long terms of confinement.”

(Jul. 30, 2013) — U.S. Army Ranger  1Lt. Michael Behenna was sentenced to 25 years in military prison and dismissal from the service resulting from his killing of an Iraqi man in 2008.

His sentence was later reduced to 15 years on a conviction of unpremeditated murder.  Prior to his court-martial in March 2009, Behenna was reviewed as having “great potential” and “remarkable performance as a platoon leader.”

Michael is listed as one of the “Leavenworth 10” who were incarcerated at Ft. Leavenworth as a result of the U.S. conflicts in the “war on terror.”  Behenna’s request for parole early this year was denied.

Behenna is eligible for parole in January 2014, and his family is requesting letters of support and offers of employment to strengthen the case for his release.

Behenna joined the Army after the 9-11 terrorist attacks.  He became leader of a unit which was part of the 5th Platoon, Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division.

The 24-year-old soldier had been under orders to investigate an area suspected of serving as a terrorist training camp.  Arriving in three vehicles, Behenna and his team questioned several suspects without incident and then headed back to their base.

The first vehicle struck an improvised explosive device (IED), causing it to flip and kill Spec. Steven Christofferson and Sgt. Adam Kohlhass.

While Behenna was uninjured physically, he reportedly felt responsible for the deaths of his men.  According to the JAG Law blog, Behenna and the other survivors of the attack “have been casualties of the IED attack on LT Behenna’s platoon” and  “The effects continue to be far reaching.”

A man who Behenna suspected planted the IED or had knowledge of the person who did, Ali Mansur, was interrogated by Behenna’s superiors, but a decision was made to release and return him to his home, with which Behenna was tasked.  Mansur has been described as “a known Al Qaeda operative” and “explosives transporter.”

Behenna brought the other man home but detoured and stopped with Mansur in an isolated area.  With an interpreter present, he interrogated Mansur, threatening to kill him if he did not divulge the information which Behenna believed Mansur possessed about the attack on his unit.  It has been acknowledged that Behenna’s interrogation of Mansur was not authorized by his chain of command.

At his court-martial in 2009, Behenna claimed that he fired two shots at Ali Mansur in self-defense.  Forensic investigator Dr. Herbert MacDonell, an expert witness for the prosecution, agreed with Behenna’s version of why he killed Mansur but was not called upon to testify.  Behenna’s parents, Scott and Vicki Behenna, contend that MacDonell was “sent home rather than have him provide testimony that would have corroborated what Michael said happened in that Iraqi culvert.”

Michael Behenna graduated from Army Ranger training in March 2007

Behenna claimed that while he was interrogating Mansur, Mansur lunged at him and tried to take his gun, after which Behenna fired twice, hitting Mansur in the chest and head.  Behenna invoked the self-defense as his reason for killing Mansur.

After his conviction, Behenna asked for a new trial on the grounds that MacDonell’s evidence would have been favorable to his claim of self-defense.  The prosecution claimed that Behenna “lost his right to self-defense” because he had pointed a firearm at Mansur while interrogating him.

The Behennas believe that their son was denied a fair trial as a result of the Army’s failure to call the forensic investigator to the witness stand.

In late 2010, Scott and Vicki told an Army Parole Board that Michael had been suffering from post-traumatic stress when he made the decision to kill Ali Mansur.  The Board did not grant clemency at that time.  His girlfriend said that Behenna’s outlook was “inspiring.”

Behenna turned 30 on May 18 at Ft. Leavenworth, where he is serving his sentence.  The official website dedicated to relating his story and his release describes Behenna’s incarceration as a “horrible injustice at the hands of the military justice system.”

A documentary was made in 2011 of Behenna’s story.  A group of World War II veterans supportive of Behenna’s release stated that “No U.S. soldier should be serving prison time for fighting in a war zone.  Let’s bring Michael home.”

Bloggers, former military members and writers have questioned the fairness of the military justice system.  In an interview with an Oklahoma news station, Scott Behenna said that in the military system, which is different from the civilian judicial system, “the general is controlling the whole judicial process…who’s charged, who the prosecutors are, the judges, who the jury is…it needs to be a system that’s looked at.”

After exhausting the military appeal process, Behenna asked for a Writ of Certiorari from the U.S. Supreme Court, which would have provided for a review of his case and the question of self-defense in war zones, but on May 30 of this year, the Supreme Court voted not to review it.  Of the Supreme Court’s decision, Michael’s father told The Post & Email, “Michael’s lawyers, who all had worked on the Supreme Court at one time felt that Michael’s case may be the first petition accepted by the Supreme Court from a service member. How could they not accept a case of national importance concerning a Soldier defending himself in a war zone against a known Al-Qa’ida operative? But, they denied to hear Michael’s case.”

Writer Bob McCarty has questioned whether or not the Army is “protecting someone” in Behenna’s former chain of command and stated that Behenna is “a victim of a colossal failure of Army leadership” as a result of the officer who “ordered the then-24-year-old officer to escort Mansur back to his hometown.”  McCarty has experienced great difficulty in obtaining documentation in response to FOIA requests he placed in the case to the Army’s FOIA office at Ft. Belvoir, VA and Ft. Campbell, KY.

Regarding requests for Behenna’s upcoming parole review, a posting on his website reads, in part:

We have one more very important request for all who have followed Michael’s case and want to help him directly. Michael is eligible for parole for the first time in January 2014 and his parole packet must be completed by the end of August 2013. It is our desire to provide the Army Parole Board with hundreds of letters of support as well as letters of employment.  We want to leave no doubt in the Army Parole Board’s mind that Michael is more than an acceptable risk to leave prison; that in fact he is openly welcomed back into American Society by the public at large.

Behenna can receive letters at:

Michael Behenna #87503
1300 N. Warehouse Road
Fort Leavenworth, KS  66027-2304

Michael, Vicki and Scott Behenna in an undated family photo

Regarding Michael’s chance to regain his freedom, Scott Behenna added:

Michael is eligible for parole for the first time in January 2014, and we must have his packet to the Army by Sept 1. The most important thing we are seeking at this point are letters of support, not only from those who know him, but also from those that support a Soldier’s right to defend himself in a battlefield against our enemy. There can be no deterrent, appeasement, or rehabilitative effect of Michael’s continued incarceration for all parties agree Michael was defending himself, but the courts say that somehow he lost that right by not following orders. A peculiar statement by the Army since the same Army gave Dakota Meyer the Congressional Medal of Honor for helping to save his troops, even though Meyer violated his direct orders not to engage on FOUR occasions. In fact, Michael’s imprisonment only keeps the war wounds open for many who feel this war and its effects will never end.

The Dakota Meyer story is told here.

Letters in support of Behenna’s parole can be addressed to “Parole Division – US Disciplinary Barracks” and sent to:

Scott Behenna
1050 E. 2nd Street #169
Edmond, OK  73034

Michael’s parents will be presenting all of the letters together to the Parole Board in late August.

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