President Trump has pardoned a former Army lieutenant who was convicted in 2009 of killing an Iraqi prisoner suspected of being an Al Qaeda terrorist, the White House announced Monday evening.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders cited “broad support” for Michael Behenna, of Edmond, Okla., “from the military, Oklahoma elected officials, and the public” — including 37 generals and admirals, along with a former Pentagon inspector general — as the reason for Trump’s clemency grant. Sanders also said Behenna had been a “model prisoner” while serving his sentence.
“In light of these facts, Mr. Behenna is entirely deserving of this Grant of Executive Clemency,” Sanders concluded.
A military court originally sentenced Behenna to 25 years for unpremeditated murder in a combat zone. However, the Army’s highest appellate court noted concern about how the trial court had handled Behenna’s claim of self-defense, Sanders said. The Army Clemency and Parole Board reduced his sentence to 15 years and paroled him in 2014, as soon as he was eligible.
Behenna acknowledged during his 2008 trial that instead of taking prisoner Ali Mansur home as he was ordered, he took the man to a railroad culvert, stripped him, and then questioned him at gunpoint about a roadside bombing that had killed two members of Behenna’s platoon.
Behenna, who was 24 at the time, said he acted in self-defense when Mansur threw a chunk of concrete at him and reached for the lieutenant’s handgun. Army prosecutors said the argument didn’t stand up because Behenna was already pointing his weapon at the prisoner.
In 2018, Behenna’s parents told Fox News the prosecution failed to disclose that their own expert’s analysis supported their son’s version of events. The expert felt so strongly that he reached out to the Behennas about his findings.
Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter initially requested a pardon for Behenna in February 2018 and renewed his request last month. Hunter said he believed Behenna’s conviction was unjustified because of erroneous jury instructions and the failure of prosecutors to turn over evidence supporting a self-defense claim. The White House statement said that former Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin and “numerous members” of Oklahoma’s congressional delegation had also expressed support for Behenna.