The Michael Behenna Story: Part Three
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 third 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 Two.”
By Carrie Fatigante
In February 2008, 1st Lt. Michael Behenna’s platoon was on standard patrol in Albu Toma when FOB Summerall contacted Michael to inform him of a “complex attack” set to target his platoon near the local Iraqi Police Station in Delta Company’s area of operation.
The message listed several names of suspected perpetrators, but specifically Ali Mansur, a name Michael recognized from previous intelligence reports including an official Draft Intelligence Information Report and reports from local people identifying Mansur as a confirmed member of two separate insurgent cells.
Despite this previous knowledge and the communication from official intelligence officers, no formal report was made regarding this attempted attack.
A few weeks later, Ali called Michael’s cell phone and threatened him personally. He then threatened the rest of the 5th Platoon, and told him, “If you ever come back to Albu Toma, something bad is going to happen to your platoon.”
On April 21, 2008, Mansur made good on his promise.
On desert patrol near Salaam Village in a three-MRAP convoy, Michael rode in the middle truck. The caravan intersected a dusty road, and the first two trucks crossed without incident. But when the third vehicle crossed, Michael described in court what happened next.
“I just heard a thud, which we’ve heard this thud before. We know that sound. We know what it is. We know it’s an IED. We know. And I remember looking in my side mirror, and all I could see was smoke and dust. So, immediately, I got out of my truck and went back to that last truck.”
When Michael checked the rearview mirror after the blast, he saw the last truck rolling over and over amidst plumes of black smoke. To put the power of the blast in perspective, one door on an MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle) weighs over 700 pounds. To send one of these heavily armored vehicles hurling would require a massive amount of explosives.
Michael immediately ordered the halt of the other trucks and, as one platoon member recounted for Michael’s mother, Vicki, he’d “never seen anyone [Michael] run that far that fast.”
Scott explains that operating procedure in attacks is for the platoon leader to stay clear of the scene, since their duties are to organize rescue operations. But Michael could only concentrate on giving aid to those that might be hurt — or worse. Michael detailed the scene in court:
“As I was running back to the truck, the dust and the smoke was dropping and I saw [pause] just [pause] just bodies. I saw several bodies laying there. I recognized and noticed my soldiers were laying there, my interpreter. Well, [pause] you know as the leader on the ground, I had to make the decision, you know, evaluate the situation that just happened.
“I spent most of my time [pause]—I spent most of my time trying to give aid to my soldier. (Specialist Kohlhaas) [But also] the CLC (Concerned Local Citizens) members, one of them, his gut was cut open and he had some kind of metal stuck in there, stuck in his stomach. I mean, it was just, people were screaming. [Christofferson] was the furthest one to the west.
“I saw Christofferson, and he was [pause]—I knew he was dead by the time I saw him. He was cut in half. He was cut completely in half. We put the guys on the stretchers and put them on the two birds that showed up. After that, the QRF (Quick Reaction Force) responded down to that area, and they were picking up all of the stuff left behind, you know, the clothing, equipment.”
Smoke and blood were mixed with the desert sand, and the smell of diesel penetrated Michael’s senses, burning his nose and eyes. Bodies were everywhere, and Michael began shouting orders over the radio requesting medics and rescue helicopters. Two of Michael’s soldiers and two Iraqi citizens were killed, and several others were gravely wounded.
Michael was close to both of the soldiers killed. Sgt. Adam Kohlhaas, of Perryville, Mo., was Michael’s daily workout partner. Michael found Kohlhaas unconscious but with no outward injuries. Once he realized he wasn’t breathing, he performed CPR for many minutes but failed to resuscitate him. After Kohlhaas’ death, Michael stopped working out, refusing to even enter the gym.
Spec. Steven Christofferson, of Cudahy, Wisc., was a young soldier for whom Michael had served as a mentor. The two reportedly had endless discussions about Christofferson’s future in the military. Christofferson expressed interest in transitioning from the enlistment ranks to the officer levels, and often sought Michael’s advice.
Michael nicknamed him “Padawan,” a Jedi term meaning pupil or apprentice, and would often tease Christofferson about wanting to move from the “dark” side of grunt troops to the “light” side of officers. He also impressed upon Christofferson the importance of earning a degree and learning different languages, specifically Arabic, and offered Christofferson his Arabic phrase book. The two were so close, in fact, that when Michael advanced from second to first lieutenant, he gave Christofferson his gold second lieutenant’s bars.
After the attack area was cleared of bodies and mutilated equipment, Michael surveyed the scene one last time. Lying in the sand, partially burned and reeking of fuel, was the Arabic phrase book he’d given to Christofferson. Michael quietly placed the book in his pocket, and Vicki says it remains one of his most important possessions. “It still smells like diesel.”
Stay tuned for “The Michael Behenna Story: Part Four.”
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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 Lieutenant Behenna’s defense, visit DefendMichael.wordpress.com.