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Michael Behenna: I regret taking another human being's life

by Chris Casteel Published: February 12, 2014
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This is the text of the letter former 1st Lt. Michael Behenna sent to the Parole Division at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, late last year. Behenna met with the parole division before members of his family met with the U.S. Army Clemency and Parole Board in Arlington, Va., on Jan. 9. The letter was included in the packet given by Behenna’s family to the U.S. Army Clemency and Parole Board.

Most people have a moment in their lives that will stay in the forefront of their minds forever. That day for me is April 21, 2008 when Adam Kohlhass and Steven Christofferson were killed by an IED. Adam was my friend, the person I worked out and played cards with. Steven was like my younger brother. I encouraged him to continue his education through the green to gold program. Soldiers know that they are not invincible and that combat is a dangerous business. As a result, I took my job seriously and I believed that it was my responsibility as the platoon leader to ensure the safety of my men. That concept might be difficult to understand unless you have been the leader of an infantry combat platoon. But as an infantry combat platoon leader it was my responsibility to set the missions for the platoon on a day-to-day basis, to determine when and who would dismount, and it was my decision to determine who went through the door first.

After the IED attack, it was discovered that al-Qaeda was responsible for the attack and that Ali Mansur was a member of that group. On May 5, 2008, at my direction the platoon detained Ali Mansur at his home in Albu Toma. On May 16, 2008, I learned that Mr. Mansur was going to be released. I was told to return Mr. Mansur and another detainee. While my decision to conduct a field questioning of Mr. Mansur before I permitted him to walk home, in hindsight, was not the best decision I made as a platoon leader, but it was made for one purpose and one purpose only and that was to collect intelligence in order to protect my soldiers from future attacks. It was during that field questioning that I shot Mr. Mansur. It was my belief that when he stood up and moved toward me that he was going to take my weapon and use it against me.

I’ve had five years to think about these events not just the death of my soldiers, but the death of Mr. Mansur. I regret my decision to conduct the field questioning of him. I regret what the investigation of the shooting incident did to my soldiers. I regret that they were punished for something I did. I regret taking another human beings life. I regret that Mr. Mansur’s children will grow up without a father. If there is one thing that I have learned while spending the last four and a half years at the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks in Ft. Leavenworth, it is that it is important for children to grow up in a safe and secure environment with two parents. Many of the inmates at USDB don’t know their fathers or were abandoned, neglected, and abused by their parents. Children need a father figure and they need to know that they are loved. I regret that the shooting of Mr. Mansur might breed in his children another generation of hatred against America. I regret that Mr. Mansur’s wife will live a solitude life without a husband to support her and her children.

I’m 30 years old. I’ve had much time over the past four and a half years to think, read, to evaluate my life, and to consider my future. I hope that one day I can meet Adam Kohlhass’ daughter, Londyn, who at the time of his death was too young to remember him. I want to let her know how much her father loved her, and how he talked about her all the time. I hope to have the opportunity to speak with Steven Christofferson’s mother, Michelle. I know she will miss seeing Steven marry and start a family, but I want to let her know what a great man he was and how much the platoon loved and cared about him. I’ve learned that every journey presents an opportunity, as one door closes, another door opens. I’m ready for the opportunities that await me.

Sincerely,

Michael Behenna

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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