LT MICHAEL BEHENNA WAS CONVICTED IN 2009 FOR SHOOTING AN AL QA’IDA OPERATIVE IN IRAQ WHEN THE DETAINEE LUNGED FOR LT. BEHENNA’S GUN; LT. BEHENNA WENT TO FORT LEAVENWORTH PRISON AND WAS RELEASED IN MARCH 2014 AFTER SERVING 5 YEARS OF A FIFTEEN YEAR SENTENCE.
Michael Behenna was a senior in high school when terrorists struck the United States on September 11, 2011, and wanted to enlist immediately. His parents, a Special Agent with the Oklahoma Bureau of Investigation and a federal prosecutor, convinced him to go to college first. Michael joined the ROTC and was one of the very few cadets sent to Army Airborne School. Upon graduation, Michael was commissioned a second lieutenant and later earned the right to attend Army Ranger School. He excelled, graduated, and was selected to join the famed 101st Airborne Division, and was later called on to lead a newly created heavy weapons platoon. At just 24 years-old, he was entrusted with the lives of 18 men, and over a very short period of time prepared them for, and later led them in combat missions in the highly volatile Sunni Triangle in Iraq. On April 21, 2008, almost eight months into his first deployment, Michael’s platoon was struck by a massive roadside bomb that killed two of the men under his command.
On March 20th, 2009, Army Ranger 1st Lieutenant Michael Behenna was sentenced to 25 years in prison for killing Ali Mansur, a suspected Al Qa’ida operative. Mansur was reported to be a member of an Al Qa’ida cell operating in the lieutenant’s area of operation. Army intelligence believed he organized the same attack on Lt. Behenna’s platoon in April 2008 that killed two U.S. soldiers and injured two more. After several cursory interrogations that failed to inquire into Mansur’s knowledge of the IED attacks or links to Al Qa’ida, the Army ordered Lt. Behenna to drive Mansur back to his home and release him..
Before returning him home, Lt. Behenna took a detour to an isolated location in the desert to question the Al Qa’ida member himself to see if he could obtain information that he could use to protect his platoon from further attacks. During this interrogation, Mansur attacked Lt. Behenna and lunged for his gun. Fearing for his life, Lt. Behenna fired two shots, killing Mansur. The government subsequently prosecuted Lt. Behenna for premeditated murder.
At trial, the jury rejected the government’s theory that Lt. Behenna executed Mansur, acquitting him of premeditated murder. However, because the judge had ruled that Lt. Behenna had given up his right to self-defense when he threatened Mansur with a gun, the jury convicted Lt. Behenna of unpremeditated murder. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison, which was later reduced to 15 years. In 2009, Lt. Behenna began serving his sentence at Fort Leavenworth.
After five years in prison, Michael Behenna was released on parole in March 2014. Since that time, he has acclimated back into Oklahoman life, where he works on a ranch running thousands of head of cattle. He has also purchased his own small ranch where he raises horses, goats and chickens. Michael spends his free time with family, advocates for those who have been wrongly convicted, and volunteers in homeless shelters.
Despite knowing he acted in self-defense against a member of Al Qa’ida, Michael struggles daily with the gravity of having taken another man’s life. He understands and fully accepts that he made a grave error in judgment by conducting an unauthorized interrogation. He has expressed full remorse for his actions.
However, in light of his sacrifice and service to this nation, we believe it is time for America to forgive Michael by pardoning him and restoring his full rights as an American citizen. We are not asking for Michael to be exonerated—he accepts that he made a mistake and must live with the consequences—instead, we are asking for forgiveness.
Without a pardon, Michael still must serve 10 years of parole before he can be formally released from his sentence and be given back his full rights as an American citizen. He will still remain felon for life.
After 9/11, Michael answered the call to serve his country. He led a platoon of young men into combat and witnessed two of them lose their lives. In his effort to protect the rest of his men and bring to justice those responsible, Michael made a mistake and conducted an unauthorized interrogation. He has paid dearly for that mistake.
As any veteran of the Iraq War will attest, countless Al Qa’ida members who were known to have American blood on their hands were released and restored to their full rights as Iraqi citizens. It is time for America to do the same for Michael, who sacrificed so much for this great country.
Please contact your congressman and ask them to support a petition for a Presidential pardon on behalf of Lt. Behenna to restore his full rights as an American citizen! He fought for you; now please fight for him!
Below is a brief recap of the relevant aspects of Lt. Behenna’s case.
- September 2007: Lt. Michael Behenna deployed to Iraq for his first tour of combat.
- April 21, 2008, Al Qa’ida operatives attacked Lt. Behennaʼs platoon. The IED attack resulted in the death of two of Lt. Behennaʼs platoon members with two other platoon members severely injured, one Iraqi civilian (CLC) killed, one US citizen interpreter of Arab descent killed, and one Iraqi civilian (CLC) injured.
- May 5, 2008: Based on information from US Army intelligence, Lt. Behenna’s platoon detained known terrorist Ali Mansur at his home for the attack on Lt. Behennaʼs platoon. Mansur had illegal weapons and a passport indicating trips to Syria.
- May 16, 2008: Without explanation, Army Intelligence ordered the release of Mansur.
- Lt. Behenna, who lost two members of his platoon just weeks earlier, was ordered to transport Mansur to his home.
- Lt. Behenna attempted a final field interview of Mansur prior to his release.
- During the interview, Mansur attacked Lt. Behenna, and Lt. Behenna reacted to defend himself by firing two shots, which killed Mansur.
- July 2008: The U.S. Army charged Lt. Behenna with premeditated murder for the death of the Al Qa’ida operative and terrorist Ali Mansur.
- February 23, 2009: Lt. Behennaʼs trial begins.
- Defense experts testify that Mansur was standing with his arm outstretched when shot.
- On the evening of February 25th, prosecution expert witness Dr. Herbert MacDonell told the prosecution attorneys the only logical explanation for what happened was that Mansur had to be standing, reaching for Lt. Behennaʼs gun when he was shot. This contradicted the prosecution’s theory that Mansur was executed while seated on a rock.
- On February 26th Lt. Behenna testified that while he was interrogating Mansur he turned his head towards his interpreter, and when he did, Mansur lunged for his gun. The Lt. fired a controlled pair of shots. This explanation was identical to what Dr. MacDonell told the prosecution team in a private meeting the night before.
- During a recess after Lt. Behennaʼs testimony, Dr. MacDonell met with the prosecution team and told them again that the Lt.’s testimony was exactly what he had demonstrated to Prosecutors the day before and that the Lt. must be telling the truth. The prosecutors sent Dr. MacDonell home to New York. Leaving the courtroom, Dr. MacDonell told defense counsel he would have made a great witness for Lt. Behenna.
- The defense counsel asked prosecutors if they have any exculpatory evidence about Dr. MacDonell, and the prosecutors denied possession of such evidence.
- In their closing arguments, the prosecution told the jury that Lt. Behennaʼs testimony that Mansur was reaching for his gun was “impossible” based upon the evidence (despite knowing that their own expert witness had told him it was the only logical explanation.)
- Later that Friday night a military panel of seven officers acquitted Lt. Behenna of premeditated murder but convicted Lt. Behenna of unpremeditated murder and assault.
- After Lt. Behenna was convicted, but before sentencing, Dr. MacDonell sent an email to the prosecution team requesting that the information provided in his demonstration be turned over to the defense.
- Lt. Behenna’s defense counsel requested the judge declare a mistrial and order a new trial, but on March 20, 2009 the military judge denied both defense motions.
- In a narrow 3-2 decision, the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces denied Lt. Behenna’s request. Shortly thereafter, the United States Supreme Court denied his petition for certiorari, leaving Lt. Behenna with no more viable options to appeal.
- On March 14, 2014, Michael Behenna was paroled from Ft. Leavenworth prison after serving five years of a 15-year sentence. (The original 25 year sentence was reduced five years by the commanding General of 101st Airborne, and the Army Clemency Board subsequently reduced it another five years.)
Please stand with us and request a Presidential pardon for Michael Behenna!