If there ever was a man I respected this much, it would be Michael. Serving with this guy made my tour worth the risk. There was never a more dedicated Platoon Leader and his respect for the Iraqi Culture was superb.
MILITARY PROSECUTORS WITHHOLD EVIDENCE; ARMY RANGER GOES TO PRISON FOR 25 YEARS FOR SHOOTING AL QAEDA OPERATIVE
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.
Not only is this a miscarriage of justice on the behalf of Lt. Behenna, who was acting to prevent further loss of life in his platoon, it is demoralizing to the U.S. troops who continue to fight on behalf of the freedom and security of our nation. Whether it is U.S. border patrol agents, members of the armed forces, or FBI agents, no individual who is serving on the frontlines in the War on Terror should be so blatantly mistreated.
We urgently need your help to correct this terrible wrong against a loyal and faithful soldier. Please contact your congressman and ask them to intervene on behalf of 1LT Behenna. Below is a brief recap of the relevant aspects of Lt. Behenna’s case.
- September 2007: 1st Lieutenant Michael Behenna deployed to Iraq for his first combat experience
- April 21, 2008: Lt. Behenna’s platoon was attacked by Al Qaeda operatives. The attack resulted in the death of two of Lt. Behenna’s platoon members, two Iraqi citizens, and wounded two additional soldiers under Lt. Behenna’s command.
- May 5, 2008: Known terrorist Mansur was detained at his home for involvement in the attack on Lt. Behenna’s platoon
- May 16, 2008: Without explanation Army Intelligence orders the release of Mansur
- Lt. Behenna, who lost two members of his platoon just weeks earlier, was ordered to transport Mansur back to his home
- Lt. Behenna attempts a final interrogation of Mansur prior to his release
- During the interrogation, Behenna is attacked by Mansur and is forced to defend himself by firing two shots which kill Mansur
- Lt. Behenna panics and fails to properly report the incident
- Three days after Mansur’s death the Army issues a Kill / Capture order for Mansur for his terrorist activities (not knowing he was already dead)
- July 2008: The U.S. Army charges Lt. Behenna with premeditated murder for the death of Al Qaeda operative and terrorist Ali Mansur.
- February 23, 2009: Lt. Behenna’s trial begins
- Government and defense experts agree on the trajectory of the bullets killing Mansur
- On the evening of February 25th, prosecution expert witness Dr. Herbert MacDonnell tells the prosecution attorneys that based upon the evidence he has seen the only logical explanation for what happened was that Mansur had to be standing, reaching for 1LT Behenna’s gun when he was shot. This contradicted the prosecution’s argument that Mansur was executed while seated on a rock.
- On February 26th 1LT Behenna tells the jury that while he was interrogating Mansur he turned back to his interpreter and when he did so Mansur lunged for his gun. The 1LT moved to the left and fired a control pair of shots. This explanation was identical to what prosecution expert witness Dr. MacDonnell had told the prosecution team the night before.
- During a recess after 1LT Behenna’s testimony Dr. MacDonnell meets with the prosecution team (Megan Poirier, Jason Elbert, and Erwin Roberts) in their meeting room and tells them that what Michael had just testified towas exactly what he had demonstrated to them the day before and that Michael Behenna ‘must be telling the truth’. He told them that in the interest of justice they should put him on the stand. They looked at him coldly and said they no longer needed his services and were flying him home that night. On his way out of the courtroom he tells Jack Zimmerman, defense counsel, that he would have made a great witness for 1LT Behenna. Zimmerman asks him why and Dr. MacDonnell says he can’t say because he was still an expert witness for the government, but to ask the prosecutors.
- The first thing the next morning Zimmermann asks prosecutors if they have any exculpatory evidence that should be provided to the defense as a result of Dr. MacDonnell’s comment. Prosecutors deny having any such evidence despite having been told by their own expert witness that Lt Behenna’s explanation was the only logical explanation.
- In closing arguments on February 27th prosecutor Jason Elbert argues that 1LT Behenna’s testimony that Mansur was reaching for his gun was ‘impossible’ based upon the evidence (despite knowing that his own expert witness had told him it was the only logical explanation.)
- Later that Friday night Lt. Behenna is convicted of unpremeditated murder and assault by a military panel of seven officers, none of whom had combat experience.
- Dr. MacDonnell sends an email to the prosecution team requesting that the information provided in his demonstration be turned over to the defense.
- One of the prosecutors provides such information late Friday night, after a verdict was rendered, but prior to sentencing.
- At the request of the presiding judge, Dr. MacDonnell provides his information to the court via telephone
- The judge orders both sides in the case to file briefs relating to a possible mistrial
- After reading the briefs the judge set an additional hearing and ordered additional briefs, including one from the defense requesting a new trial
- On March 20, the judge denied both defense motions to declare a mistrial and to order a new trial. 1LT Behenna is given 30 minutes to say goodbye to his family and is taken to the county jail
- A week later Lt. Behenna is paraded in handcuffs through the Nashville airport, the Milwaukee airport, and the Kansas City airport en route to Fort Leavenworth Prison
- Lt. Behenna’s attorneys are appealing the verdict on the basis that he did not received a fair trial
- Lt. Behenna is currently serving a 15-year sentence (the 25 year sentence was reduced five years by the commanding general of 101st Airborne and reduced another five years by the Army Clemency Board.) The earliest he would be eligible for parole is after serving a third of his sentence. Without parole or a new trial Lt. Behenna will get out of prison for the shooting an Al Qaeda terrorist in self defense when he is 40 years old.
1st Lieutenant Michael Behenna was an excellent officer. He received his call to serve his country while attending the University of Central Oklahoma. He is from a family of public servants, his mother being an Assistant United States Attorney and his father a retired Special Agent with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation. He has served the Army and the United States with honor and dignity. To sacrifice the life of this Oklahoma soldier over the death of a known terrorist, is a breech of faith with all who are serving our country. Please stand with us and demand justice for this American hero!!! He fought for you; now please fight for him!
Cheers to The Valiant Dead By: Michael Xavier Ortiz
A cold, unyielding and paralyzing fear can trickle down your neck and engulf your spine to overwhelm you with indecision and internal chaos. It is the actions you take at this point that portray you in that unflattering light most of us avoid. These choices and the people you affect are the only memories you can hope to take with you when you pass. How you react to this fear is undetermined, so you have to own it and seed a positive experience. For me, losing the people I love is terrifying, and in combat, losing my friends by an unseen enemy can unsettle an anger in me with a gullet forever parched and longing. My transgressions and accomplishments used to be the only aspects of myself I would address whenever I felt introspective. As I continue on to these devastating brushes with fear, I can only watch as I change for the better, or worse.
The first time I came home from a long absence, I noticed that the smells had changed and the colors seemed more vivid. After I had enough rest, I realized; I was the one who had changed and seemed dull. Nothing would ever taste quite the same and sounds would never carry the same depth as they used to. In November; I had returned home from fifteen months of hell on earth, feet sore, skin worn, and emotion misplaced. It was cold in Kentucky when we landed. Fort Campbell never looked so gloomily beautiful. I was tired and starving, yet in seconds, my tears welled up and the scorched soles of my feet rushed me over to my overwrought mother. I knew the son she once sent away never came home per se, instead I did, a shell of a man. I always wondered how hard I would have laughed if she asked, “ How did it go?” “Did you have fun?” As we drove away to annihilate the first Big Mac we spotted, I looked back at the airplane that brought me home, full of sand-covered seats, wishing we could have left this new “me” behind. It was just the rush of enjoyment and relief that harbored my pain. I never fully understood how much the extra recognitive baggage I carried with me weighed.
It is too easy to slump into a deep dejection from this experience, but not fair to the friends I made and the good times I had, even with those who never made it home. There was Steven Christofferson, a small, determined man and a good friend. Then there was Adam Kohlhaas, my best friend, nothing more and never less. Both Steven and Adam were killed in action during an attack in northern Iraq on a dusty April morning. Sorry, it seems too easy to focus on the affliction. Every time I try to forget, I remember Steven’s mangled body, or Adam’s fading breath as we hopelessly struggled to revive him. I thought that in the moments after the helicopters snatched them from us it would be done with and I would never feel this gaping, deep and painful sadness. Fear had an effect on me that I could not recognize right away. I always had too much pride to allow proper sensibility. When this much emotion needed to be processed, I just filed it away with the lesser of my issues, like not shaving or leaving the toilet seat up. I have had my entire life to create a void in my subconscious. Now I have these calamitous memories to repress and with great success… at first, I did.
Lo and behold, I could not help but feel guilt and remorse, anger and sadness whenever I relive that day, even now. You see, that day started off innocently enough, although it never entirely ended for some of us. We had a mission in a nearly desolate sector of the desert to clean house and simmer down any potential threats to the safety of allied military forces in our area. Naturally, none of us really cared about some crude village full of goats and dried up farmland. However, there was always that chance we might see some action and that always seemed to get our blood pumping something fierce. So we suited up and strapped down to drive out south to this barren oasis. We arrived early in the day to find some questionable males attempting to elude us in our stealthy 17-ton armored vehicles, so we swiftly questioned and detained them. With “enemies of the state” in our trucks and the rest of the day ahead of us, we headed east toward the main road to sneak up on some more goats and small children. Silence, then an explosion with such a force I could not react quickly enough to catch my footing and turn to see that one of our trucks was engulfed in smoke and dust.
There was not even time for a full sentence when I jumped out of the truck and ran toward the dust. Out of the smoke came the driver of the tossed truck, distraught and crying for help, he settled at the rear of another vehicle. I made it to the first body I could see, Steven, and he was the furthest from everything, surrounded by tons of twisted metal and kicked up sand. He rested there, eyes opened, dead and honestly, that is all I really care to recall. Almost immediately I ran into our platoon sergeant, limping out of the smoke and leaning on the truck. It seemed he had been severely wounded on one entire side of his body, so I walked him over to sit and had the driver tend to his wounds. Then I rushed over to help with an interpreter whose calves were torn from his legs. Even our medic, hemorrhaging and fingers broken, still tried to help with the wounded until we had to relocate him to a safer area. I stopped, turned and saw that
Adam was laying about fifteen feet from me; so I rushed over, leaving the interpreter with his handler. I slid my hand under Adam’s head to only feel fragments of sand and blood. All I can really choose to remember is trying to find a sign, if any at all, that he was alive. Adam’s lip would quiver, his chest would rise, and the attack helicopters, that could not land, hovered over us teasing with hope. Never in my life have I ever wanted someone to just say one word to me than when I cradled Adam in my hands. Fear birthed a new value to me that was not worth the cost. Time slowed as we carried him to the helicopter and felt the wind scrape our backs as it took off with the injured, and Adam. Then there was a silence; it was the most painful silence ever heard and I could not scream loud enough to extinguish it. Adam died; Steven was bagged and tagged along with the interpreter. There were ceremonies and condolences whispered. Then we prepared for the next ten months of our deployment. It was fear that created the silence that day. The same fear kept us alive the rest of our time there.
I always assumed good people go to a better place when they die, and the lesser go to some version of hell. Well, I doubt it matters what we do if everyone is going to die at some point, right? If I was going to find a purpose in what men like Adam and Steven died for, maybe I could sleep at night, but even sleepless, I reap this blessing; The fear that once ruled over me subsided and although the memories etch at my heart, it means I get to keep these men alive. Sometimes the hard choices are easy because we ignore the possibility of other options. No one ever “finds themselves,”What you really mean to ask is what it is everyone else wants you to be. “The brave die never, though they sleep in dust, Their courage nerves a thousand living men”. (Minot J. Savage).