On Monday evening, the White House announced that President Donald Trump has granted a full pardon to a former United States Army lieutenant who was convicted of killing a suspected al-Qaeda terrorist in 2009.
Army 1st Lieutenant Michael Behenna was sentenced to 25 years in prison for unpremeditated murder in a combat zone by a military court in 2009, but was later paroled. According to CBS News White House Correspondent Mark Knoller, Trump "found Behenna 'entirely deserving' of a pardon."
As noted in a report from The Washington Post, two soldiers and friends of Behenna were killed in a roadside explosion in 2008. An intelligence report later found that then-Iraqi operative Ali Mansur — the man Behenna would later kill — likely helped in organizing the explosion that murdered his battlefield compatriots.
After Mansur was interrogated and freed due to lack of conclusive evidence, Behenna sought to interrogate Mansur without authorization. "During the interrogation, Behenna shot Mr. Mansur in the head and chest," reported The New York Times. The lieutenant left the suspected terrorist’s body in the remote area without telling anyone; Iraqi police found a dead Mansur the following day.
According to Behenna, he acted in self-defense against Mansur when Mansur threw a chunk of concrete at the lieutenant and reached for his handgun.
As reported by Fox News, Behenna's parents claimed in 2018 that "the prosecution failed to disclose that their own expert's analysis supported their son’s version of events. The expert felt so strongly that he reached out to the Behennas about his findings."
"After judgment, however, the U.S. Army's highest appellate court noted concern about how the trial court had handled Mr. Behenna's claim of self-defense," said White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders in the statement regarding the pardon, according to CNN.
"Additionally, the Army Clemency and Parole Board reduced his sentence to 15 years and paroled him as soon as he was eligible in 2014 — just 5 years into his sentence," she added.
Sanders also cited "broad support" for Mr. Behenna "from the military, Oklahoma elected officials, and the public.” According to Fox News, that support included "37 generals and admirals, along with a former Pentagon inspector general" all vouching for Behenna. The press secretary also noted that the former soldier was a "model prisoner" while serving his time behind bars.
President Trump has offered nearly a dozen pardons since his election in 2016. According to the Department of Justice, other pardons include former Sheriff Joseph M. Arpaio, Lewis "Scooter" Libby, filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza, and ranchers Dwight Hammond Jr. and his son Steven Hammond.