Former Army Ranger Michael Behenna received a pardon from President Donald Trump on Monday night, wiping from his record his conviction for murdering an Iraqi detainee during an unauthorized interrogation.
Ali Mansur was arrested in 2008 as a suspected al-Qaeda member linked to an explosion that had killed members of Behenna's platoon. Because of a lack of evidence directly linking Mansur to the explosion, Behenna — at the time a first lieutenant with the Army's 101st Airborne Division — was assigned to transport him back to his home village and release him.
According to Behenna and testimony at his military trial in 2009, less than a month after releasing Mansur, he confronted the Iraqi again, alone except for his interpreter, to try to gain more information. He stripped Mansur naked to intimidate him and began questioning him.
“I told him I wanted more intel on local leaders of al-Qaeda and that I wanted him to tell me about his stops in Saudi Arabia and Syria, and the [roadside] bomb explosion. But he kept saying, ‘I don’t know. I don’t know,’” Behenna later said, admitting that he had not received permission to confront Mansur.
Behenna claimed that the former suspect attempted to grab his weapon, forcing him to fire in self-defense. Mansur was shot twice, once in the chest and once in the head. His body was abandoned for Iraqi police to find the next day.
Behenna was convicted of unpremeditated murder in a combat zone and sentenced to 25 years in prison before having his sentence reduced to 15 years. He was released in 2014 and was scheduled to remain on parole for the next 10 years.
Since then, Behenna — whose parents both have deep ties to the law enforcement community and politics in his native Oklahoma — has gained a number of prominent supporters, including former Gov. Mary Fallin and state Attorney General Mike Hunter. Both have pressed the White House for a pardon for Behenna in recent months.
A White House release citing the support offered said that Behenna is "entirely deserving" of the clemency.
“We know we have a president who is very sympathetic to the very difficult situation that soldiers, sailors, and Marines were put in during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars,” John Richter, Behenna's lawyer and a former top Justice Department official, told the Washington Post last month.
But Hina Shamsi, the national security director of the ACLU, condemned the decision in a statement provided to BuzzFeed News.
"This pardon is a presidential endorsement of a murder that violated the military's own code of justice," Shamsi said. "The military appeals court found Behenna disobeyed orders, became the aggressor against his prisoner, and had no justification for killing a naked, unarmed Iraqi man in the desert, away from an actual battlefield. Trump, as Commander-in-Chief, and top military leaders should prevent war crimes, not endorse or excuse them."
The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America and the Veterans of Foreign Wars both declined to comment on Behenna's clemency.