The U.S. Army's parole board should set 1st Lt. Michael Behenna free. With his five years in prison, Behenna has more than paid his debt for the crime that landed him there.
Behenna, of Edmond, was convicted in 2009 of killing a suspected Iraqi terrorist named Ali Mansur, who was believed to have had a hand in a roadside bombing that killed two of Behenna's men. Behenna testified at his court-martial that he shot Mansur after the man, who had been stripped during an interrogation, threw a piece of concrete at him and lunged for Behenna's gun.
His conviction on a charge of unpremeditated murder in a combat zone was upheld by two military appeals courts. His original 25-year sentence was cut to 15 years, but the idea Behenna could serve the entire time for this crime is distressing.
Behenna, 30, was a model soldier and terrific leader. What happened that day in Iraq doesn't make him a hero — he has never sought that title. It also doesn't make him a coldblooded killer who should spend the most productive years of his life in a prison cell.
We're convinced politics played a role in his sentence. At the time, the U.S. needed to show little tolerance for those who crossed the line in combat. The prison holding Behenna is home to other soldiers similarly ensnared. Other U.S. military personnel convicted of worse crimes — but at a different time during the Iraq War — are free men today or serving much lesser sentences.
Behenna comes from great stock. His mother is a federal prosecutor. His dad is a former investigator with the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation. His brother works as an Oklahoma County prosecutor. They long to have their son and brother home, where a job awaits and graduate school plans are in the works.
Michael Behenna has paid his dues. It's time for mercy, to let him begin his life anew.