FOR every Hallmark moment on Mother's Day, there is a heartbreak moment.
A child lamenting the recent loss of a mom. A mom mourning the long-ago loss of a child.
Mothers gather with their children on the second Sunday of May. They break bread in a restaurant or around the family table. If they can.
Vicki Behenna cannot.
She won't be at the family table with her son Michael. Mother's Day in the Behenna household is a heartbreak moment because Michael is in a military prison while Vicki is fighting for his freedom.
The Oklahoman's Jenni Carlson tells the Behenna family's story in Sunday's newspaper. It's the tale of a high school senior who was so moved by the events of Sept. 11, 2001 that he insisted on being a soldier. On that day, when so many mothers died and so many mothers lost a child, Michael Behenna's determination to serve his country began — as did his mother's concerns for his safety.
Prison term an outrage
Wars produce heroes but also make widows and leave children without a mother and mothers without a child. This was the fear Vicki had when Michael got his U.S. Army officer's commission in 2006, a fear that accelerated when he shipped out to Iraq.
Michael made it home from the combat zone, but he can't be at home in Edmond today. And this may not be the last second Sunday in May that finds Behenna behind bars. Given the set of circumstances that led to his imprisonment, this is an outrage.
Behenna has spent the past four years at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., for unpremeditated murder in a combat zone. He has 11 years remaining on his sentence, a sentence wrapped in political correctness at the time it was meted out, following a trial that saw a key witness left on the sideline.
Michael Behenna has come close but ultimately been unsuccessful in getting his conviction overturned. His family is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to hear his case. If that fails — the high court accepts very few appeals each year — Behenna must return to the Army's pardon and parole board once a year to seek clemency.
In 2008, Behenna shot and killed Ali Mansur, an Iraqi who was part of a terrorist cell operating in an area where an attack had killed two of Behenna's men. Mansur was held for a time and then released. Behenna was ordered to return him to his village. Instead, he interrogated this enemy combatant one more time, forcing him to strip and questioning him at gunpoint.
Behenna said he shot Mansur after the man threw a piece of concrete at him and lunged for Behenna's weapon. At trial, a crime scene expert who was on the government's list of witnesses was never called to testify. The expert later told Behenna's attorney that he would have made a good witness — for Behenna.
The military justice system said Behenna waived his right to self-defense by pointing his weapon at Mansur. Seriously? The soldier's 25-year sentence (later reduced) was stunning, given that other soldiers and Marines convicted of similar crimes in Iraq got lesser sentences. The difference: They weren't convicted during a time when the United States was working out a politically sensitive agreement with the Iraqi government.
Behenna is among a group called the “Leavenworth 10” who had the misfortune of getting into trouble during that time. They were made an example of, their cases used as signals to the Iraqis that Washington was taking seriously the misdeeds of our fighting men.
And so Lt. Michael Behenna, now 29, has spent the past four years in prison. His once-promising military career is in shambles. Barring a reversal or parole, he could miss another decade of Mother's Days.
Whatever message the government was trying to send concerning Behenna's actions was long ago received. He's been punished enough. He should be released tomorrow with a dishonorable discharge and returned to his family.
A group of retired generals and admirals, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, are among those who've urged the Supreme Court to grant Behenna a hearing. The case merits one. Most of all, Michael Behenna merits mercy and compassion. Vicki Behenna needs other mothers to join her fight for justice.
This Mother's Day, while recalling the Hallmark moments from Michael's youth, she must endure the heartbreak moments of his present circumstances.