The Michael Behenna Story: Part Two
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 second 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.
By Carrie Fatigante
Dr. Herbert Leon MacDonnell, director of the Laboratory for Forensic Science in Corning, N.Y., is an expert whose forensic career spans five decades and includes such high-profile and complex cases as the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., and the case against O.J. Simpson. After being flown to Fort Campbell, Ky., by Army prosecutors to serve as an expert witness in the case, U.S. v. Behenna, he wasn’t allowed to testify and the result is tragic.
Instead of allowing Dr. MacDonell to present the factual evidence that corroborated Army Ranger 1st Lt. Michael Behenna’s self-defense claim and thereby implode the “revenge execution” premise of their case, Army Capts. Meghan Poirier, Jason Elbert and Erwin Roberts violated their own ethics code by hiding this evidence from both the defense team and the jury in order to achieve conviction in a politically-motivated prosecution.
Army prosecutors alleged Michael wanted revenge against known Al-Qaeda operative Ali Mansur for an IED attack on his platoon in April 2008. In that attack, he lost two men: Sgt. Adam Kohlhaas, 26, and Spec. Steven Christofferson, 20. The prosecution team maintained that the lieutenant deliberately planned to lead Mansur into a deserted culvert and murder him.
The sequence of events that brought Michael, his interpreter, Mansur and another soldier into that roadside culvert on the evening of May 16, 2008, can only be described as a failure of intelligence and lack of forward thinking by Army officials. It’s a set of events that the accused soldier’s mother Vicki declares “a recipe for disaster.”
Michael was deployed to Iraq as a second lieutenant and leader of the 18-member Delta Company, 5th platoon of the Army 101st Airborne Infantry Division in September 2007.
Once in Iraq, his platoon was stationed at Forward Operating Base Summerall near the regions of Baiji, Albu Toma and Salaam Village. There, he worked hard to establish respect, trust and rapport with the Iraqi people — from the children in the streets to Sheik Hamad, the high profile leader of Albu Toma.
Often, when children would see members of the 5th Platoon, they would run up to the MRAPs (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles) asking for “Lieutenant Behenna,” knowing he would give them food, gifts and affection. Some children even earned nicknames from the lieutenant.
In court testimony, Michael described the importance of Sheik Hamad.
“He is respected by all people. He’s somebody that you want to have a relationship with, because he controls most of the people in that area. That’s one of the first things I did was sought out Sheik Hamad.”
The Sheik is considered the “king” of that area, and Hamad was an enemy of the insurgents.
The Sheik worked closely with Michael in his daily operations, including the implementation of a water purification system for the village and offering the use of his home as a secure meeting place for intelligence gathering. In addition, Hamad often invited him to dinner and gave him a working cell phone so villagers could contact him in case they had problems with insurgents.
“I would hand my number out freely to the local people,” Michael testified. “If they had some kind of problem, they would contact me. Me and my platoon are in charge of that area so I would hand my cell phone out.”
In February 2008, Michael’s platoon was on standard patrol in Albu Toma, registering mortars on the battalion net (a radio communication device) when FOB Summerall contacted the lieutenant 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.
This Iraqi Police Station overlooks Salaam Village, an area Michael described as “a known insurgent place.” The message listed several names of suspected perpetrators, including Mansur. Michael recognized Mansur’s name 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 communication from official intelligence officers, no formal report was made regarding this attack.
A few weeks later, Ali called the lieutenant’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.”
Michael knew Mansur presented a danger to his troops, so he later phoned Mansur and offered him the chance to turn himself in and provide information in exchange for leniency.
But Mansur only repeated the threats and, again, no formal intelligence reports were made.
On April 21, 2008, Mansur made good on his promise.
Stay tuned for “The Michael Behenna Story: Part Three.”
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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.