Overdue good news for Behenna
It took longer than Michael Behenna or his family and friends would have preferred, but today Behenna no longer carries the burden of being a convicted felon. A presidential pardon has essentially wiped the slate clean.
President Trump pardoned Behenna, a former Army first lieutenant, on Monday, citing among other things the broad support Behenna enjoyed from elected officials, the military and the public. His backers saw a good man and good soldier who had served his nation admirably before getting entangled in its legal system.
Behenna, now 35, killed a man in 2008 in Iraq. He was convicted the following year of unpremeditated murder in a combat zone and given 25 years in prison. That sentence later was reduced to 15 years. Behenna was released in 2014 after serving five years at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and after much heavy lifting by his family to promote his cause.
Behenna and his family requested the pardon in January 2018. “Obviously, we’re eternally grateful,” said his mother, Vicki, whose commitment was unwavering. “It’s wonderful.” Not to mention overdue.
Behenna was a model soldier and outstanding leader. The man he killed had ties to al-Qaida, and was believed to have killed two of Behenna’s men in a roadside bombing. After being detained for a time, the man was ordered released. Behenna was supposed to take him back to his village. Instead, he interrogated him further.
During his court-martial, Behenna testified that he shot the man when the man, who had been stripped, threw a piece of concrete at him and lunged for Behenna’s gun.
What occurred on the battlefield that day didn’t make Behenna a hero, and he never claimed as much. But it also didn’t make him a cold-blooded killer who faced the prospect of being tarred for the rest of his life. Behenna has said he believes he was punished by his country for justifiable actions during wartime.
The Oklahoman has long felt that politics contributed to Behenna’s original sentence. At the time of the killing, because of dynamics in play in Iraq, the United States needed to show little tolerance for those who crossed the line in combat. Other U.S. military personnel who were convicted of far worse crimes in Iraq, but at different times during the war, received much lesser sentences.
Pardons can be politically driven, too. It’s fair to say Trump’s 2017 pardon of Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio stemmed from Arpaio’s support of Trump during the 2016 campaign. Former President Barack Obama’s pardon of traitor Chelsea Manning is another example.
The pardon of Behenna doesn’t have the same feel. Instead, it appears the White House weighed the case and the testimony on Behenna’s behalf and concluded that he had done his penance.
“It feels great,” Behenna said. “The ball and chain is gone.” We join the chorus of Oklahomans in offering our congratulations and best wishes.