Behenna sought a commission in the United States Army after graduating from college. He attended OCS and Infantry Officer Training and was then selected to attend the U. S. Army’s Ranger School. Behenna was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division as the platoon leader for 5th Platoon, Delta Company of the 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment and deployed to Iraq in 2007.
During his tour of duty in Iraq, Behenna’s platoon conducted counter-insurgency operations in the Salahuddin province with a focus on the towns of Mezra, Hajaj and Butoma. Behenna made efforts to develop ties with local Iraqis as part of his counter-insurgency mission and, already fluent in Spanish, began to teach himself Arabic. He was known to host cookouts with his platoon for local interpreters, engage with civilians on the street and encouraged his soldiers to learn about Iraqi culture and to eat their food. This desire to interact with locals caused some friction within his platoon with one soldier commenting: “He would talk to random civilians, anyone. He was the type of guy that liked Iraqis. That was the only annoying thing about him. He was always about saving the country.”
On the 21st of April, 2008, Behenna’s platoon was returning to their base with two detainees when their convoy was hit by an IED. One of the platoon’s MRAPs was destroyed and two soldiers, Specialists Adam Kohlhaas and Steven Christofferson, were killed and several others grievously wounded. The loss of his men weighed heavily on Behenna who at one point broke down in tears over the incident during a group therapy session.
On May 5, Behenna received information on a man suspected by military intelligence to be working for Al Qaeda in Iraq they believed responsible for the attack on April 21. Acting on this intelligence Behenna’s platoon raided a house in Butoma where they found the man identified by military intelligence, Ali Mansur Mohamed, along with a cache of ammunition, a RPK light machine gun and a passport with Syrian visas. After securing Mansur and collecting the arms cache, Behenna’s platoon returned to base with Mansur and turned him over to military intelligence agents for questioning.
Less than two weeks later Mansur was ordered released due to military intelligence having insufficient evidence to hold him any longer. Behenna’s platoon was tasked with the return of Mansur to town as soon as possible. On May 16, while returning the prisoner to a checkpoint as ordered, Behenna and his platoon stopped at a bridge in the northern oil refinery town of Baiji and, with the help of his Iraqi interpreter nicknamed “Harry”, tried to question Mansur on the April 21st attacks. According to the interpreter, “Lieutenant Behenna started talking with Ali Mansur and Sergeant Warner followed them. Behenna and Warner started taking off Ali Mansur’s clothes with their knives. They then cut his handcuffs.” Behenna ordered the detainee to sit, the interpreter said, adding that Behenna seemed to be keen to get information from the detainee regarding the IED attack on U. S. troops in April. Behenna asked the detainee several times: “What do you know you have to tell me.” “Ali Mansur said I will talk to you but Lieutenant Behenna pulled trigger and killed him,” the interpreter said, speaking in English. “Before we started the patrol, Lieutenant Behenna told Ali Mansur ‘I will kill you’. I thought Lieutenant Behenna was trying to scare him. I did not think he would go through (with it),” the interpreter added. “I was standing 10 metres (yards) back during the shooting — I could see everything even if it was getting dark — and Sergeant Warner was next to me.” Warner then “took the grenade from his pocket, pulled the safety ring, walked around and put the grenade under Ali Mansur’s head. “Then they hid his clothes, and Behenna and Warner went back.” Two U. S. soldiers from the same battalion as the accused also testified against Warner. Corporal Cody Atkinson said that Behenna and Warner, armed with a grenade, took Mohammed out of the vehicle and under the bridge
After the murder, Behenna ordered the platoon back to the base and the next day local villagers found Mansur’s naked, burned body in the culvert. On July 31 of 2008 Behenna was relieved of his command and charged with the premeditated murder of Ali Mansur Mohamed. In November of that year Behenna was returned to Fort Campbell and assigned to security duties pending his court martial.
Supremes asked to affirm right to defend against terror attack
The family and supporters of a U.S. soldier convicted and sentenced to prison for shooting and killing a terror suspect who apparently lunged at him and tried to grab his weapon say they are preparing to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene in the case and affirm the soldier’s right to self defense.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces recently upheld a lower court’s decision to convict 1st Lt. Michael Behenna on a charge of unpremeditated murder in a combat zone for the death of “suspected terrorist Ali Mansur.
The conviction has been affirmed throughout the military court system even though testimony from a man summoned by the prosecution as an expert witness said that the evidence indicated Mansur was lunging at Behenna and probably trying to grab his weapon during an “unauthorized” interrogation.
In an email now to supporters, Behenna’s parents, Scott and Vicki, who have generated support for their son with the Defend Michael website, said, “The [appeals] court agreed that favorable testimony had been withheld by the prosecutors and that the trial judge’s instructions were in fact erroneous; but the majority ruled that none of that mattered because Michael had lost his right to self-defense the moment he pointed a gun at Ali Mansur.
“It is important to note that the government’s argument in the appeal was not that Michael had murdered Mansur (they have all but conceded that was not the case), but rather than he had no right to defend himself in a war zone once he pointed a gun at Mansur (regardless of how many American soldiers Mansur had killed as the leader of an al-Qaida cell),” they wrote.
In fact, one government attorney argued Behenna lost any right to self defense against whatever Mansur would try to do.
“We have one more chance in the court system and that is to take Michael’s case to the United States Supreme Court. We know that the odds are long, but after consulting with lawyers who have tried cases in this venue we have taken their advice to pursue a petition to have Michael’s case heard before the highest court in the land,” the Behennas wrote.
In the CAAF, Jack Zimmerman, Behenna’s attorney, argued the court should overturn Michael’s 15-year sentence based on several key errors made by the judge and prosecutors.
Also raised was the issue of a prosecution decision to prevent a key witness who would have supported Behenna’s explanation of the shooting from testifying.
During the trial, Herbert MacDonell stated the evidence indicated that Mansur was actually standing and reaching for Behenna’s gun when he was shot. MacDonell has over 50 years of experience in forensic science and participated in investigations of the Martin Luther King Jr. and Sen. Robert Kennedy assassinations and also testified in the O.J. Simpson murder case.
The following day, Behenna told the jury that, while interrogating Mansur, he turned back to talk to the interpreter. At that time Mansur, who was only three to four feet away, lunged for Behenna’s gun, and Behenna fired. The explanation was identical to what MacDonell told prosecutors the evening before.
During a brief recess, MacDonell met with the prosecutors and said the evidence indicated “Michael must be telling the truth,” and in the interest of justice they should put him on the stand.
The prosecution team then told MacDonell his services were no longer needed and he would be flown home that night. As he left the courtroom he told Zimmerman that he would be a great witness for Behenna. He stated he could not elaborate as he was still an expert witness for the government but told them to ask the prosecutors.
The following day Zimmerman asked the prosecutors if they had any exculpatory evidence that should be provided to the defense. The prosecution said it did not.
Following Behenna’s conviction, but prior to the sentencing, MacDonell submitted an email to the prosecution expressing his concern over not being able to testify.
He said: “As I demonstrated to you and to the other two prosecutors, Dr. Berg, Sgt. McCaulley and Sgt. Rogers, from the evidence I feel that Ali Mansur had to have been shot in his chest when he was standing. As he dropped straight down he was shot again at the very instant that his head passed in front of the muzzle.”
MacDonell continued: “Admittedly, this would be an amazing coincidence, however, it fits the facts and … I cannot think of a more logical explanation. This scenario is consistent with the two shots being close together, consistent with their horizontal trajectory, consistent with the bloodstains on the floor, and consistent with the condition of the 9 mm flattened out bullet which was tumbling… When I heard Lt. Michael Behenna testify [Thursday] as to the circumstances of how the two shots were fired, I could not believe how close it was to the scenario I had described to you on Wednesday. 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.”
Following receipt of the email, one of the prosecutors revealed its contents to the court. Despite the revelation, the judge refused defense requests for a mistrial.
Behenna, an Army Ranger, now is imprisoned at Fort Leavenworth. The shooting happened after Mansur was questioned about terror activities, and then officers told Behenna to return Mansur to his home. On the way there, Behenna conducted another interrogation and shot Mansur when he lunged at Behenna. The suspect had been seated and Behenna standing nearby when Mansur apparently jumped up and lunged at Behenna, according to testimony.
Behenna’s supporters have released a music video in support of the soldier. It was recorded by the Chad Evan Todd band:
The Behennas also said they simultaneously were requesting a presidential pardon as a resolution to the case.
“Michael’s case should not be a political football and we feel strongly that liberals and conservatives should support a soldier who is incarcerated for defending himself in a war zone. We ask each of you write to both President Obama and presidential candidate Mitt Romney … and request that they look into Michael’s case and consider giving him the homecoming he never received,” they wrote.