Army 1st Lt. Michael Behenna was convicted of killing an al-Qaeda suspect in a combat zone during a 2008 deployment to Iraq. A military court sentenced the officer to 25 years in prison, though an appellate court noted his argument of self-defense. The former lieutenant was paroled in 2014, but won’t be going back to prison. On May 6, 2019, President Donald Trump signed a full pardon for the soldier.
Behenna led a platoon in Iraq while working counterinsurgency operations in Salahuddin province. One day in April 2008, a convoy led by Behenna was returning to base with two captured suspects when it was hit by an IED. Two soldiers were killed, many more were wounded, and the convoy lost two vehicles. The next month, his unit received intelligence that the man responsible for that attack was named Ali Mansur Mohamed. They also learned where Mohamed lived.
The suspect’s house was immediately raided by Behenna and his men, who found an RPK heavy machine gun, Syrian passports, and a cache of ammunition. The Army took Ali Mansur Mohamed into custody and turned him over to intelligence agencies.
But the suspect was released less than two weeks later. Behenna would be in charge of returning him to his home.
Behenna after his 2014 parole.
It was on the way back to Ali Mansur Mohamed’s home that things started to go south. Behenna and his convoy stopped outside of the town of Baiji, where Behenna, a sergeant under his command, and an Iraqi interpreter began to question Mansur. They removed his clothes, cut his handcuffs and ordered him to sit before questioning him about the April attack on the Behenna’s convoy.
After some time and questioning, Lt. Behenna finally pulled the trigger and fired the shot that killed the suspected insurgent. They covered up the corpse with a grenade. Behenna was charged with murder in July 2008. In 2010 a jury found Behenna guilty of unpremeditated murder and sentenced him to 25 years. That was later reduced to 15, of which he served fewer than five.
The Northern Iraqi oil town would later be captured by ISIS.
But none of that matters now, as the President’s executive order of clemency is a full pardon for the onetime military officer. Behenna admitted to the killing at his trial, saying Mansur moved to try and take his sidearm from him. A government witness found Mansur’s wounds corroborated the self-defense story, but the evidence was not presented in his court-martial.
The Oklahoma native has been working as a farmhand since his release from the Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth.