Behenna case deserves a hearing before Supreme Court

The Oklahoman Editorial Published: March 13, 2013
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MICHAEL Behenna should be home and enjoying the grandeur and drama of springtime in Oklahoma. Instead, he's in a military prison.

Behenna has long since served whatever time he may or may not have deserved for killing a man with terrorist ties in Iraq. He should be home, getting on with his life as a former U.S. Army officer. Instead, Behenna is in Leavenworth. And he could be there for another decade.

Behenna was a soldier fighting an enemy not in uniform, an enemy that plays by no rules of war. The rules that thrust Behenna into the military justice system were unyielding. They seem to override the protections granted civilians in this country. Application of those rules was superseded by a type of political correctness that demanded Behenna be made an example of. This was to show the leaders of a country that Americans liberated, with blood and guts, that we take seriously any proscribed conduct by our soldiers.

Behenna is serving a 15-year sentence for killing Ali Mansur in 2008. He was convicted of an unpremeditated murder in a combat zone. So far, his legal appeals have failed, narrowly, at several levels, but he has the support of a group of retired generals and admirals. Behenna and his family need support from fellow Oklahomans as well.

The U.S. Supreme Court has been asked to consider the case. A key issue is the right of soldiers to defend themselves against a hostile opponent. That right today is murky, in part because of the Behenna case. This “defies common sense” and endangers service members, according to a legal brief filed on behalf of the retired officers. The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers also wants a high court review.

We don't know everything that happened that day in 2008. Behenna was returning Mansur, a detainee, to his home. In a remote area, prosecutors said, Behenna ordered Mansur to strip. He questioned him at gunpoint. Behenna said he shot Mansur because the prisoner threw concrete at him and lunged for his weapon.

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