President Trump Pardoned a Murderer

Former 1st Lt. Michael Behenna, seen here in 2008, has received a presidential pardon for his 2009 conviction in the killing of Ali Mansur, an Iraqi civilian.
Screenshot: WCBE

Michael Behenna, a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army, was deployed to Iraq in 2007. A year later, two soldiers, both friends of Behenna, were killed in a roadside explosion. Behenna witnessed the attack. U.S. intelligence officers believed that then-Iraqi operative Ali Mansur may have known something about the explosion. He was brought in for questioning and released because the military didn’t have enough evidence tying him to the attack.

According to The Washington Post, a month later, without anyone’s knowledge, Behenna decided that he was going to question Mansur alone about the explosion. The Post notes that Behenna stripped Mansur naked, questioned him without authorization from Army brass and then shot him twice. He left Mansur for dead. He didn’t tell anyone about what took place. After Iraqi police found Mansur’s body, Behenna claimed a popular refrain that resonates across America when white people leave brown bodies to die; Behenna claimed self-defense.

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“I was scared Ali Mansur was going to take my weapon and use it against me,” he told the military panel of seven officers during his court-martial. “This happened very fast,” Behenna explained describing how a naked unarmed man who he’d gone to question without approval became a threat to him and therefore needed to be put down.

Military prosecutors told the jury at his 2009 court-martial that Behenna killed Mansur because he’d lost his friends and wanted to avenge their death.

What is white life worth?

What’s the mathematical equation for white life? What is the intrinsic value? In America, the threat of brown or black violence against white life, even if the colored body is unarmed, is worth death. It’s all justifiable if the mathematical equation is one unarmed black/brown body + one armed white man + “I feared for my life”; the sum is usually death.

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Seems the same applies overseas.

Except, Behenna was initially found guilty; he was sentenced to 25 years in prison for unpremeditated murder in a combat zone by a military court, but someone didn’t add it all up. Someone didn’t realize that a brown man had lost his life and the outcome isn’t white jail time.

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So the Army Clemency and Parole Board reduced his sentence to 15 years and paroled him as soon as he was eligible in 2014. Behenna only served five years.

On Monday, President Donald Trump acknowledged this mistake against Behenna’s whiteness and granted him a full pardon, CNN reports.

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“After judgment, however, the U.S. Army’s highest appellate court noted concern about how the trial court had handled Mr. Behenna’s claim of self-defense,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in the statement, according to CNN.

In her statement, Sanders called Behenna a “model prisoner” while he was doing his time.

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She said Behenna’s case “has attracted broad support from the military, Oklahoma elected officials, and the public,” and noted that “thirty-seven generals and admirals, along with a former Inspector General of the Department of Defense, signed a brief in support of Mr. Behenna’s self-defense claim.”

“Behenna is entirely deserving of this Grant of Executive Clemency,” Sanders wrote.

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Sanders forgot to write that Behenna is also very well connected as his mother is a well-known Oklahoma attorney who “helped prosecute Oklahoma City bomber Timothy Mc­Veigh” and his father “worked as an FBI analyst and Oklahoma state investigator,” the Post reports.

So whiteness wins again.

Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union National Security Project, told CNN that the pardon was “a presidential endorsement of a murder that violated the military’s own code of justice.”

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“The military appeals court found Behenna disobeyed orders, became the aggressor against his prisoner, and had no justification for killing a naked, unarmed Iraqi man in the desert, away from an actual battlefield,” Shamsi said in a statement.

But why would anyone let facts stand in the way of a mathematical equation that always finds justification for the subtraction of black and brown life.

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About the author

Stephen A. Crockett Jr.

Senior Editor @ The Root, boxes outside my weight class, when they go low, you go lower.