Army 1st Lt Michael Behenna, in Iraq with several members of his platoon, before he was arrested over the shooting of an Iraqi in his custody. In the back right holding the AMERICAN flag is Adam Kohlhaas, who was killed in a roadside bombing tied to an Al-Qaida cell.
(With thanks to the Behenna family)
When Michael Behenna told his parents he wanted to serve in the Army after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, they were proud of it.
The Behennas itself were devoted to the career in the public service. Scott Behenna was an FBI intelligence analyst and retired Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation special agent. Vicki Behenna prosecuted Timothy McVeigh before the deadly Oklahoma City bombing.
But as parents, they were afraid that if he were deployed to a battlefield, Michael, the oldest of their three sons, could be maimed or killed.
Instead, First Lt. Michael Behenna to return from Iraq in 2008 with a murder charge. He was found guilty of unpremeditated murder in a war zone and detained in the federal prison in Leavenworth, Kansas.
Behenna admitted during his trial that instead of taking an Iraqi prisoner, Ali Mansur, at home after a 2008 interrogation in Iraq — if he was ordered to do — he took him to a railway pit. There he is stripped Mansur and asked him at gunpoint on a road bombing that had killed two members of Behenna’s platoon, that Behenna had experienced.
“When sending a child to fight in a war, the last thing you think you’ll ever have to deal with seeing him be charged with the murder of an Al Qaeda” terrorist, Scott Behenna said on Fox News.
Behenna, who was then 24, he said that he acted in self-defense as Mansur threw a piece of concrete at him, and for the lieutenant’s gun. The Army said that the argument didn’t stand, because Behenna was already pointing his weapon at the prisoner.
In the fight, we can bomb and kill people, even in their sleep. We don’t condemn the pilots who dropped a bomb on the wrong house, and we should not. But if you come face to face with a rebellious, with an individual, and you’re making a split-second decision, you can be prosecuted for murder.
– Scott Behenna, whose son was sentenced to a war-zone crime
Behenna was sentenced to 25 years in prison, which was reduced to 15. In 2014, when he served five years, he was granted parole.
Behenna, now 34, is one of about a dozen veterans who were paroled or continue to be held in Leavenworth because of the combat zone crime beliefs that many military experts and political leaders say that it never would have happened. They are looking for a pardon from President Donald Trump, who so far has granted only two – a former Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Arizona, and the other to a former Navy sailor, Kritian Saucier, who took photos of classified areas in a submarine, and a year in federal prison.
“If these guys in the war, there are administrative ways to deal with it. But we charge them with murder,” Scott Behenna told Fox News. “These guys have been on multiple tours, and they are stressed. We are fighting an enemy that has no uniform. These guys had no criminal record, I would be one of them as my neighbor, also living in my house. They are phenomenal people. We second-guessed them and put them in jail.”
Scott and Vicki Behenna said that the military justice confused and frustrated. They also said that the treatment of their son’s case, sometimes it seemed to run counter in a way that the shape of the key results — would have done in the civilian world.
Michael Behenna, after his conditional release in 2014, and looks out on a ranch in Medford, Oklahoma, where he managed several thousand head of cattle for the owner. Now Behenna has his own cattle ranch.
(With thanks to the Behenna family)
“I understand the criminal law, but I was not familiar with the UCMJ,” said Vicki Behenna, referring to the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
They say that a transgression, they believe, denied their son a fair trial was the failure of the prosecution to disclose to the public that their own expert analysis supported Lieutenant Behenna’s version of events. The surveyor felt so strongly that he reached out to the Behennas about his suppressed findings.
Vicki Behenna said: “As a nation, we must be sympathetic and understanding of the stress and anxiety” that those who are in the struggle operate under when making split-second decisions.
Scott Behenna said that the military failed to thoroughly investigate the scene of the shooting in a timely manner.
As a mother, I want that for Michael. I want him to be forgiven, be able to, if and when he has children, and wants to coach little league, that he will be able to do it, and not be prevented because of a criminal conviction.
– Vicki Behenna, whose son will remain on parole until 2024
“In the civilian world, we take the necessary time to do a good crime scene investigation, when it could exonerate someone,” he said. “But the army will not do.”
Scott Behenna acknowledge his son erred when he deviated from orders to take Mansur home, him elsewhere for an unauthorized interrogation. But he can’t fathom how Behenna and 11 others who are in prison or on parole from Leavenworth, based on the combat-zone crimes are treated more severely than others whose jobs involve split-second, life-and-death decisions.
“Americans released Al-Qaeda terrorists and other people of the military’s Guantanamo Bay detention facility,” he said. “We released them, not on parole, let them be free, even though we know that a third of them to go back [for terrorist activities]. But we don’t want our boys.”
Behenna said that it makes little sense that there is insight to be granted in the cases where the military drops bombs on suspected enemies, and kills innocent civilians in the process.
Sgt. Derrick Miller is where life for death is an enemy combatant. Miller states that the suspect tried to grab his gun and he shot him in self-defense.
(With thanks to the Free Derrick Miller)
“We can bomb and kill people, even in their sleep,” he added, “we do not condemn the pilots who dropped a bomb on the wrong house, and we should not. But if you come face to face with a rebellious, with an individual, and you’re making a split-second decision, you can be prosecuted for murder.”
Last year, Rep. Brian Babin, R-Texas, asked Trump in a letter to the cases of veterans who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan and in the prison for battlefield crimes. He has not received an official response from the White House, ” he said.
“I have had several conversations with senior Trump officials since I sent the letter last year,” Babin said on Fox News on Thursday. “It is my sincere belief that this American government officials’ cases must be reviewed to ensure that their trials, convictions, and sentences were not affected by the political pressure.”
The military prison located on the grounds of Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.
“This is very important, because the release of several terrorists and the forgiveness of traitors of President Obama,” Babin added. “My request is simply for a full, fair and complete review of the cases to ensure they were treated fairly. I have not yet received an official response, but I’m still on the Administration.”
The Behennas say that their son has rebuilt his life, and enjoys running his own cattle ranch. He is required to check in with his parole officer, and are listed in the public domain as a criminal.
“I understand, legally, what is needed is to get a pardon, and how difficult it is to get them,” Vicki Behenna said. “As a mother, I want that for Michael. I want him to be forgiven, be able to, if and when he has children, and wants to coach Little League, that he will be able to do it, and not be prevented because of a criminal conviction.”
Many of the other Leavenworth vets have it even worse. Some are from poor families, who do not have the resources to have their vet case in the public eye, or a visit to Washington for a meeting with lawmakers to build support for the mercy, forgiveness, or a change in the way the military punishes combat zone crimes.
Three of the men remain in prison: Army First Lt Clint Lorance, Sgt. Derrick Miller and Master Sgt. John Hatley. The other Leavenworth vets got paroled; one got his conviction reversed. This are the only one in the group who are still behind bars.
Sgt. Derrick Miller of Maryland was on a combat mission in a Taliban-held area of Afghanistan in September 2010 when he was notified that the unit of the base was penetrated. An Afghan suspicious of an enemy warrior was brought Miller in for questioning and, ultimately, death. Miller claimed the suspect tried to grab his gun, and he shot him in self-defense. But he was convicted of premeditated murder and sentenced to life in prison.
Army First Lt Clint Lorance is serving a 20-year prison sentence for ordering his men to shoot two suspected Taliban scouts in July 2012, in the Kandahar Province of Afghanistan. Lorance had just taken command of the platoon after the previous leader, and a number of others were killed, a few days before. The Taliban suspects were on motorcycles and matched descriptions given by a pilot who flew over the area in the past and saw them as scouts.
The U.S. Army Master Sgt. John Hatley, a highly decorated 20 year vet who served during Operation Desert Storm, and did the other three tours during the Iraq War, is serving a life sentence in Leavenworth. His conviction stems from an April, 2007 action in Iraq, where he and his unit captured enemies after a firefight.
Is he using the radio to an AMERICAN detention facility to notify officials he was bringing in four prisoners, but was ordered to let them go, according to his legal team.
Two years later, a sergeant who had served with Hatley, Jesse Cunningham, was facing charges for assaulting another officer and to fall asleep on his post. As leverage for a plea deal, he told investigators Hatley and two other officers had taken the insurgents to a remote location, they blindfolded and shot each in the back of the head. He claimed that their bodies were dumped into a canal – but no one was ever found.
Hatley that he and his men let the rebels go, but believes that he was punished in the interest of the government, the ties with Baghdad.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Elizabeth Llorente is a Senior Reporter for FoxNews.com and can be reached at Elizabeth.Llorente@Foxnews.com. Follow her on Twitter @Liz_Llorente.