Retired military officers seek U.S. Supreme Court review of 1st Lt. Michael Behenna's case

A group that includes five retired four-star generals says the high court should clarify the right of self-defense for soldiers serving in combat zones. Behenna, an Oklahoman, is serving time for unpremeditated murder in a combat zone.
by Chris Casteel Modified: March 4, 2013 at 8:01 pm •  Published: March 4, 2013

A group of retired U.S. military generals and admirals is urging the U.S. Supreme Court to grant the appeal of 1st Lt. Michael Behenna, arguing that the high court must clarify the right of soldiers to defend themselves in combat zones.

The Edmond soldier's case, according to a brief filed on behalf of 37 retired officers and a former Defense Department official, warrants review by the high court because a ruling against Behenna by the military's top appeals court “defies common sense” and endangers service members.

Among those signing the brief are a former chief of Naval Operations; a recent commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan and a former NATO Supreme Allied Commander; five retired four-star generals signed the brief, as did retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Jay T. Edwards, the former commander of the Oklahoma City Air Logistics Center.

Behenna is serving a 15-year sentence in Fort Leavenworth, Kan., for killing a suspected terrorist in 2008 in Iraq. Behenna was ordered to take the Iraqi man — Ali Mansur — home, but took him instead to a remote area, forced him to strip and then questioned him at gunpoint. Behenna said at his court-martial that he shot and killed Mansur in self-defense after the Iraqi threw a piece of concrete at him and lunged for his gun.

Behenna was convicted of unpremeditated murder in a combat zone, a sentence that was upheld by the Army's court of criminal appeals and, in a 3-2 decision last summer, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces.

The court ruled that Behenna essentially lost his right to self-defense when he pointed the gun at Mansur and couldn't regain it unless Mansur escalated the conflict or attacked as Behenna tried to withdraw.

“Even assuming for a moment that Mansur could have escalated the level of force, we conclude that a naked and unarmed individual in the desert does not escalate the level of force when he throws a piece of concrete at an initial aggressor in full battle attire, armed with a loaded pistol, and lunges for the pistol,” the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces ruled.

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by Chris Casteel
Washington Bureau
Chris Casteel began working for The Oklahoman's Norman bureau in 1982 while a student at the University of Oklahoma. After covering the police beat, federal courts and the state Legislature in Oklahoma City, he moved to Washington in 1990, where...
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