ARLINGTON, Va. — The parents of Army 1st Lt. Michael Behenna criticized the military justice system Tuesday and asked a Defense Department advisory board to ensure soldiers have the same rights to a fair trial as those in the civilian system.
Scott and Vicki Behenna, of Edmond, said their son was charged with murder in a combat zone four years ago without any physical evidence to support the charge.
Inexperienced prosecutors failed to disclose evidence that would have helped their son's case, they said, and their son received a sentence far harsher than others convicted of the same crime.
The Behennas' testimony was delivered to the Defense Legal Policy Board, which held a public hearing to examine how the military justice system works in regard to soldiers charged with crimes against civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The board has no power to intervene in individual cases and is instead trying to determine whether federal laws and the military code of justice are adequate to ensure fair trials.
“You will have to fight your son's case individually,” board member John Bellinger told the Behennas. “We will look at systemwide changes if there are things that need to be changed.”
Top leaders of the military's legal branches mostly defended the system, with one saying it had proved reliable and “robust” during the last decade of war.
Vicki Behenna, a federal prosecutor in Oklahoma City, disagreed.
“I'm not asking you to pass judgment on Michael,” she said. “This is my son. I'm asking you to be vigilant in what you decide to do in how the military justice system is used against these foot soldiers that are trying to survive in a very dangerous environment.
“If there's anybody that deserves all the protections that our Constitution provides to the citizens, it should be these soldiers who are fighting and dying and watching their friends die in a combat zone.”
About his case
Michael Behenna is serving a 15-year sentence at a military prison in Fort Leavenworth, Kan., for killing an Iraqi man suspected of being involved in a bombing that killed two members of Behenna's platoon.