President Donald Trump has pardoned Michael Behenna, a former Army officer who was convicted of murder for the killing of an Iraqi prisoner in 2008, the White House announced Monday night.
Behenna was sentenced to 25 years in prison and was released on parole in 2014 after serving five years. His case has been championed by a number of influential people, including former Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin and more than 30 retired generals and admirals.
In 2008, U.S. forces captured Ali Mansur, a suspected al-Qaida member, after a roadside bomb killed two American soldiers in a convoy traveling north of Baghdad, according to the Washington Post. An intelligence report linked Mansur to the attack, but the military couldn’t conclusively prove his involvement and was forced to free him.
Behenna, an Army Ranger in the 101st Airborne Division and a friend of the two soldiers who had been killed, was tasked with taking Mansur back to his village. But instead, Behenna and his platoon took Mansur to a remote area, cut off his clothes with a knife, bound and blindfolded him, and interrogated him about the attack. A military court filing reports Behenna threatened Mansur: “This is your last chance to tell the information or you will die,” Behenna said, according to the New York Times.
Mansur reportedly agreed to talk, but Behenna shot Mansur in his head and chest. Behenna told the other soldiers that “he would do it again, and he did not feel bad about it because he just lost two guys,” according to the court filing.
Behenna has claimed he was acting in self-defense and that Mansur had thrown a piece of concrete and reached for Behenna’s weapon during the interrogation. Behenna tried to overturn his conviction based on the assertion that the prosecution hid evidence that would have helped his case. A judge denied those efforts, but his sentence was reduced to 15 years.
Last year, Mike Hunter, the attorney general of Oklahoma—Behenna’s home state—asked Trump to pardon Behenna, admitting that some of the former soldier’s actions were objectionable but that “that does not mean he deserves the label ‘murderer.’ ”
The White House agreed in a short statement, also noting concerns about Behenna’s trial and his behavior as a “model prisoner.”