The Michael Behenna Story: Part Four
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 fourth 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 Three.”
By Carrie Fatigante
On May 5, 2008, Army Ranger 1st Lt. Michael Behenna read an official Army intelligence report identifying Ali Mansur as a member of an Al-Qaeda cell responsible for the April 21, 2008, IED attack on his platoon that killed two of his soldiers. [Military prosecutors later blocked this document from being submitted to the jury as determination of Michael’s understanding of Mansur as a known terrorist threat. The judge denied its admission based on relevance.]
Michael immediately set out to detain Mansur for interrogation at Command Operating Base Speicher, the specified location for intelligence operations. Michael visited with Sheik Hamad, the leader of the Albu Toma region where Michael’s platoon operated, who confirmed Ali Mansur’s status as a terrorist. Hamad then told Michael and his interpreter “Harry” where Mansur could be found.
The 5th Platoon soon reached Mansur’s home, where Ali was found hiding in a small room and possessing an illegal, Russian-made RPK machine gun.
SSgt. Hal Warner found Mansur, physically tackled him and then brought him to a back bedroom for questioning with Michael. Warner’s takedown was forcible enough to break a table as he and Ali fell to the floor.
Michael and Harry questioned Mansur as Warner searched the back room for more illegal weapons and other evidence. Warner soon discovered Mansur’s passport confirming two trips to Syria, where insurgents are known to receive training and funds for terror attacks.
Mansur lied repeatedly about traveling to Syria until after Michael struck Ali’s back with his helmet. Only then did he admit he had been across the Iraqi border, but he was still unwilling to give additional information.
Prosecutors claimed Michael’s Kevlar helmet left a large abrasion on Mansur’s back, proving Michael was unnecessarily rough with the detainee; however, subsequent cross examination by defense attorney Jack Zimmerman of Houston, Tex., revealed that it was actually Warner’s rough tackle that caused the injury. Michael testified that Mansur’s lies and subsequent confessions to the Syrian trips indicated he likely had serious knowledge of connections to terrorist financing.
Once Mansur reached COB Speicher, the intelligence chain of command went MIA. Mansur was interrogated four times by four different intelligence officers, and each time he was only asked about possession of illegal weapons and current employment. Incredibly, he was never asked about the IED attack, a previous threatening phone call, a confirmed attempted February attack, or even his trips to Syria. After ten days, Mansur was ordered released and sent back to FOB Summerall for the appropriate processing.
Brett said Michael was upset about the incompetent questioning, faulting communication failures between the different branches. Michael knew an entire intelligence file existed for Mansur, including a classified report — a modified declassified copy of which I personally read — that confirmed Mansur as a member of Al-Qaeda responsible for transporting and implanting IEDs in the April 21 attack. Yet, this information never made it to Speicher.
It was not until Mansur was sent back to FOB Summerall for release on May 15, and only after Michael implored his Commander to let him sit in on one final interrogation, that Mansur finally gave names and cell phone numbers of other terrorists associated with his cell.
Mansur was also again caught lying about his Syrian passport. Afterwards, expecting Mansur to be sent back to COB Speicher, Michael inquired about the next step, but Scott says he was promptly informed, “It doesn’t matter. We have orders to release him, and he’s being released.”
Adding insult to injury, Michael himself was ordered to release Mansur back to the area of Albu Toma. Vicki shakes her head and says, “It wasn’t necessarily out of the ordinary for them to have Michael release Mansur (and other detainees), but it was certainly bad judgment after everything he’d been through.”
The next day, Delta Company 5th Platoon departed for duty with two detainees in tow ordered for release. 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.”
Later, he explained further, “Ali, he’s involved in the cell, the cell, especially out in Salaam Village. I wanted to get the cell leaders, the bigger fish, out in Salaam Village, so I wanted to use Ali as a source.”
Michael was concerned about the future safety of his troops, which he says he felt like were “sitting ducks.”
Stay tuned for “The Michael Behenna Story: Part Five.”
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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.