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Trump Pardons Michael Behenna, Former Soldier Convicted Of Killing Iraqi Prisoner

Former 1st Lt. Michael Behenna, seen here in 2008, has received a presidential pardon for his 2009 conviction in the killing of an Iraqi detainee.
Vanessa Gera
Former 1st Lt. Michael Behenna, seen here in 2008, has received a presidential pardon for his 2009 conviction in the killing of an Iraqi detainee.

President Trump has granted a full pardon to former Army 1st Lt. Michael Behenna, who was convicted by a military court in 2009 for killing an Iraqi prisoner suspected of being part of al-Qaida. Behenna was initially sentenced to 25 years; he was released on parole in 2014.

Behenna, 35, was found guilty of unpremeditated murder in a combat zone for shooting Ali Mansur Mohamed in 2008. He said he acted in self-defense, and as the White House announced his pardon, it also said a U.S. Army appellate court had "noted concern about how the trial court had handled Mr. Behenna's claim of self-defense."

Mansur was killed during questioning about a roadside explosion that had killed members of a platoon under Behenna's command. In military court and in an interview last year, Behenna acknowledged that he had decided to question Mansur on his own, weeks after the Iraqi was initially released because of a lack of direct evidence that could tie him to the explosion.

Mansur was naked when he was shot; Behenna said the prisoner had tried to take his weapon. In his legal appeal, he also said that during the trial, prosecutors had withheld evidence from his defense attorneys.

The push to pardon Behenna, an Oklahoma native, was taken up by the most powerful politicians in his home state. Members of Congress offered their support, as did former Gov. Mary Fallin and state Attorney General Mike Hunter — who repeatedly asked Trump to pardon Behenna.

Hunter welcomed news of the pardon, issuing a statement that read, "Behenna served his country with distinction, honor and sacrifice. He has admitted to his mistakes, has learned from them and deserves to move on from this incident without living under its cloud for the rest of his life."

Behenna's family has worked vigorously on his behalf — and they are well-positioned to do so, with deep ties to law enforcement and the legal system. His father, Scott Behenna, has worked for both the FBI and Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation. His mother, Vicki Behenna, is an attorney and former longtime federal prosecutor in Oklahoma City who has led the charge to help her son — first to win parole and then to gain a presidential pardon.

When that pardon finally came, Michael Behenna missed the White House's initial call to him because he was speaking to his father on the phone, according to The Oklahoman. Then he called the White House to speak to the president.

"My heart was beating fast," he told the newspaper. "I had big ol' tears in my eyes. He said he'd heard about my case, and 'you have a lot of support behind you. Your case came highly recommended.' I'm choked up and I'm trying to say, 'Thank you very much.' "

With his record cleared, Behenna no longer faces the restrictions that would have come with being on parole through 2024.

In addition to support within Oklahoma, the White House statement about Behenna's pardon mentioned other factors, from the Army Clemency and Parole Board reducing his sentence and granting him parole to some 37 military officers and others signing a brief supporting his claims.

The White House statement about his pardon added, "Further, while serving his sentence, Mr. Behenna was a model prisoner. In light of these facts, Mr. Behenna is entirely deserving of this Grant of Executive Clemency."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.