All Things Soldier: Behenna-Beast Or Braveheart?

2014-02-22_14-35-58Michael Behenna, a soldier convicted of murdering an Al-Qaeda operative and who served 5 years of a 15-year sentence in Leavenworth, has been released on parole. Recently his parents, Scott and Vicki Behenna, said the following:

“With tears of joy in our eyes we are happy to tell all of you that Michael is coming home! … It has been, to say the least, quite a ride,” the parents said. They said further:

2014-02-22_14-36-07“Michael signed up for the Army in order to serve his country and honor the innocent people killed on 9/11. As a lieutenant he led his men in the ‘Mad Dog’ 5th Platoon into combat in Iraq and with them bravely faced a determined and ruthless insurgency. Then his story took a bizarre turn when he was charged and later convicted of killing a known al-Qaida cell leader who was directly involved in an IED attack that killed two of his soldiers, Steven Christofferson and Adam Kohlhaas.”

Michael was holding an Al-Qaeda operative named Mansur at gunpoint in a tunnel, and questioning him through an interpreter. Allegedly Mansur threw concrete at Behenna while his head was turned slightly to hear the interpreter and Michael shot him. Later Behenna was charged with murder and convicted.

What is so disturbing about this case is that according to a forensics expert named Dr. Herbert MacDonell (who investigated the assassinations of JFK and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was an expert witness in the OJ Simpson trial, and who has more than 50 years of investigative experience), the shots fired at Mansur were consistent with someone firing in self defense, and not cold blooded murder. But Dr. McDonnell was not allowed to testify on Michael’s behalf. Dr. MacDonell said:

“I am sure that had I testified I would have wanted to give my reenactment so the jury could have had the option of considering how well the defendant’s story fit the physical facts,” MacDonell said. “This, of course, would not have been helpful to the prosecution case. However, I feel that it is quite important as possible exculpatory evidence.”

Exculpatory evidence is that which favors the defendant and is used to prove innocence. For the life of me I do not know why Dr. MacDonell was not allowed to testify. Later, even the prosecution let slip that they believed Dr. MacDonell’s reenactment to be true! No one knew this until after the young soldier was convicted.
His parents expressed their dismay on their website and kept the pressure up. Their frustration was put to good use in the following statement:

“As most of you know the prosecutors sent Dr. MacDonell home rather than have him provide testimony that would have corroborated what Michael said happened in that Iraqi culvert. We will never know why the prosecutors wantonly withheld this evidence, or why the military chose to release a known terrorist whom Army Intelligence knew participated in the killing of Michael’s soldiers (and for whom the Army had issued a kill/capture order on), or why Michael’s platoon was designated as the unit to return the very man responsible for the IED attack on Michael’s soldiers back to his home.”

In Iraq there was a stretch of road between my camp and the large adjoining camp that had a mosque and minaret right next to the wall. I drove it several times a week. Our soldiers who were on Entry Checkpoint were told that if they took fire from the mosque, they were not allowed to return fire because it was a mosque! Crazy things do happen in a combat zone and, sometimes, true justice seems nowhere to be found.

While it’s true Michael is safely back with his family, his conviction has not to date been overturned. This means he cannot vote, own a firearm, run for office, and is automatically ineligible for all manner of jobs. But, he has parents that have fought hard and will keep after it. It is their statement of hope with which I wish to close:

“Life is often not fair, and as we have seen, justice is sometimes hard to come by. For the innocent man who is sent to prison, life can seem especially cruel. To survive that requires strength that comes from deep inside. It also requires the love and support from family and close friends. Michael always knew he could count on his family and friends to be there for him. What has rocked his world is how thousands of people he has never met could will him through his struggle.”
May Michael’s world continue to be rocked.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner