The Michael Behenna Story: Part Five
EDITOR’S NOTE: On July 31, 2008, Army Ranger 1st Lt. Michael Behenna was charged with the premeditated murder of Ali Mansur, a known Al-Qaeda agent operating near Albu Toma, an area north of Baghdad. Seven months later, the leader of the 18-member Delta Company, 5th platoon of the Army 101st Airborne Infantry Division was convicted of unpremeditated murder and sentenced to 25 years confinement at Fort Leavenworth. Below is the fifth installment of a multi-part investigative series detailing the spurious case against Lieutenant Behenna, now 26, adapted from “The Michael Behenna Story (pdf)” (26 pgs., PDF) by new BMW contributor Carrie Fatigante. It picks up from “The Michael Behenna Story: Part Four.”
By Carrie Fatigante
When 1st Lt. Michael Behenna was ordered to release Ali Mansur, the Al Qaeda operative identified as the perpetrator of the April 21, 2008, attack on Michael’s platoon that killed two of his soldiers, he realized the intelligence chain of command had failed to properly document the threat Mansur posed to his troops and their operating region of Albu Toma in Iraq.
On May 16, 2008, Delta Company 5th Platoon departed for duty with two detainees in tow ordered for release, including Mansur. The caravan had four trucks that day and the detainees were blindfolded and zip-tied in the back of the last truck of the pack. Detainees are bound this way so they cannot inform other terrorists about the inside of U.S. military vehicles.
The first detainee was dropped off in his designated area a few hours earlier than Mansur, and much is made in court testimony about the fact that Michael made a stop in Albu Toma to speak with Sheik Hamad about a water purification system, but did not release Mansur at this time.
However, Michael readily admitted in his own testimony that he did not release Mansur at that time because he intended to question him further.
“My intent on May 16th was to question Ali myself,” Michael said. “I knew he had information about the April 21st attack. I knew he knew who the cell leaders were in Salaam Village and operating in Salaam Village. Those questions weren’t asked during any of the interrogations that were done.”
Michael intended to scare Mansur into giving him the information, planning to take him to a remote area to question him at gunpoint even though he knew it wasn’t an authorized procedure for a platoon leader. He also admitted that pointing his weapon at Mansur as a scare tactic was a “bad decision,” explaining, “Sir, it is a bad decision to point a weapon at anybody. The reason I did it was, at the time, I was thinking, ‘this guy’s not telling me the information.’”
SSgt. Hal Warner claimed that Michael’s actions that day were completely out of the ordinary, though Harry’s (Michael’s interpreter) testimony disputes this. In fact, much of Sergeant Warner’s testimony reads like a “CYA” manual and, even in transcript form, smacks of coaching.
Sergeant Warner also admitted on the stand that he wasn’t happy with his assignment to Michael’s platoon. And, since Warner was almost ten years older than Michael, he felt his job was to “train” his platoon leader, because he felt his experience gave him the upper hand.
Sergeant Warner did not assume his position with the platoon until after the April 21 attack, meaning he was not present for the incident leading up to the interrogation in the culvert.
When the convoy finally stopped to release Mansur, they were located just outside of Albu Toma near some railroad tracks and a CLC (Concerned Local Citizens) checkpoint which Michael said is where he planned to direct him once he was through questioning him.
It was dusk when Mansur was retrieved from the last truck. A dust storm had blown through and visibility conditions were poor as Michael and Harry began walking Mansur toward the two consecutive roadside tunnels.
Sergeant Warner claimed Michael ordered him to accompany the three men into the culvert, but other witnesses deny this and Warner admitted he had to run to catch up with them in the tunnel. Harry also denied that Michael ordered Warner to pack a thermite grenade in his ammunition vest — one that the sergeant boasted he always had packed with several grenades and at least 300 rounds of ammunition.
When asked to describe what he wore into the culvert that evening, Sergeant Warner listed everything but the kitchen sink:
“I was wearing my IBA, body armor—various numerous pouches to hold magazines, grenades—and sundry items. I would carry multiple kinds of smoke, two fragmentation grenades, and I usually carried a thermite. I carry rifle ammunition. I carried approximately 300 rounds of rifle on me, marking gear for LZs, first aid pouches, compasses, Garmin, a lot of stuff.”
During cross examination, Sergeant Warner admitted this is “a really heavy load” to carry on your body, not including a helmet and an M-4 rifle, to which he testified, “I do not let it out of my hands.”
This assertion will make Sergeant Warner’s later claims of speed and agility seem implausible, specifically when he explains how he was relieving himself as he performed lookout on the berm of the culvert, and then ran 35 meters (just over 114 feet) on sand in just under two seconds to witness Michael shoot the second shot of a “controlled pair” from a Glock pistol. [Note: A "controlled pair" is a technique the Army trains its soldiers to use which places approximately one second between trigger pulls.]
Sergeant Warner also confessed under cross that he’d made two false statements prior to his testimony, one of which was written by Army prosecutors.
Most notable of Sergeant Warner’s testimony, which he now claimed was the truth, was that it was secured only after he closed a plea agreement granting him immunity from more serious charges and securing a sentence of 17 months confinement at a military base instead of prison time at Ft. Leavenworth.
Stay tuned for “The Michael Behenna Story: Part Six.”
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To read other BMW posts about Lieutenant Behenna’s case, click here.
To learn more about the case and the legal defense fund set up to help defray costs associated with Lt. Behenna’s defense, visit DefendMichael.wordpress.com.