On March 20th, 2009, Army Ranger 1st Lieutenant Michael Behenna was sentenced to 25 years in prison for killing Ali Mansur, a known Al Qaeda operative while serving in Iraq. Mansur was known to be a member of an Al Qaeda cell operating in the lieutenant’s area of operation and Army intelligence believed he organized an attack on Lt. Behenna’s platoon in April 2008 which killed two U.S. soldiers and injured two more. Army intelligence ordered the release of Mansur and Lt. Behenna was ordered to return the terrorist to his home.
During the return of Mansur, Lt. Behenna again questioned the Al Qaeda member for information about other members of the terrorist cell, and financial supporters. During this interrogation, Mansur attacked Lt. Behenna, who killed the terrorist in self-defense. The government subsequently prosecuted Lt. Behenna for premeditated murder.
Many feel Lt. Behenna acted to prevent further loss of life in his platoon, many feel it is demoralizing to the U.S. troops who continue to fight on behalf of the freedom and security of our nation.
Below is a brief recap of the relevant aspects of Lt. Behenna’s case.
- September 2007: 1LT 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, two Iraqi citizens, and wounded two additional soldiers under LT Behennaʼs command.
- 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: 1Lt. 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 1LT 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 the prosecution’s closing arguments they argued 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, none of whom had combat experience, 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.
- A mistrial was requested by the LT’s defense counsel, but on March 20, 2009 the military judge denied both defense motions to declare a mistrial and to order a new trial.
- LT Behennaʼs attorneys have exhausted his appeals through the military courts and are currently pursuing a fair trial by petitioning the United States Supreme Court.
- LT Behenna sentenced for 15-years in Ft. Leavenworth (the original 25 year sentence was reduced five years by the commanding General of 101st Airborne and the Army Clemency Board reduced it another five years.)
On Friday March 14, 2014 American POW 1st Lt. Michael Behenna who was tried and convicted of being a war criminal and has spent the last 5 years at Fort Leavenworth will be released as he has been paroled. Government JAG officers refused to allow their own forensic expert to testify that would have exonerated Michael Behenna. His record will continue to show he committed unpremeditated murder and assault.