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President Donald Trump on Monday pardoned a former soldier who was convicted of killing an Iraqi prisoner in 2008.
The ex-Army lieutenant, Michael Behenna, was sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2009 for killing Ali Mansur, a suspected member of al-Qaeda, while he was in custody. Behenna had been tasked with taking Mansur back to his village but instead stripped him naked, held an impromptu investigation in a remote area, and then shot him, claiming it was in self-defense and that he feared Mansur was going to reach for his weapon. Mansur had been released after being questioned about a roadside bombing that killed two of Behenna’s friends in his platoon, the Washington Post reported.
In a statement on Monday, the White House said Behenna was “entirely deserving of this Grant of Executive Clemency,” citing support from former Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin and current Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter, among others. This was the eighth pardon Trump has issued as president.
“Mr. Behenna’s case has attracted broad support from the military, Oklahoma elected officials, and the public,” the statement read. “Thirty-seven generals and admirals, along with a former Inspector General of the Department of Defense, signed a brief in support of Mr. Behenna’s self-defense claim.”
Behenna previously had his sentence reduced to 15 years and was paroled in 2014 after serving five years in prison for “unpremeditated murder in a combat zone." He would have faced five more years of parole if not for Trump’s pardon.
The New York Times, citing a military court filing, reported that Mansur was bound and blindfolded during the two-to-three minute interrogation before the shooting. The filing stated that Behenna told other soldiers, “he would do it again, and he did not feel bad about it because he just lost two guys,” according to the Times.
For more than a year Hunter has championed the cause of pardoning Behenna, a 35-year-old Oklahoma native.
“Some of Behenna’s actions leading up to the shooting were undoubtedly wrong and condemnable,” Hunter wrote in a February 2018 letter to Trump. “But that does not mean he deserves the label ‘murderer,’ or the lifelong punishment and stigma that come with being a federal criminal.”
Hunter celebrated the pardon from Trump in a statement on Monday. “My hope is that Michael and the rest of his family can rest easy this evening knowing they can put this tragic situation behind them,” the statement read.
Cover Image: Former army solider Michael Behenna stands on land that he helps work in Medford, Oklahoma on July 17, 2014. (Sarah Phipps/The Oklahoman via AP, File)