President Donald Trump has pardoned a former U.S. soldier convicted in 2009 of killing an Iraqi prisoner, the White House announced Monday.
Michael Behenna, of Oklahoma, had been sentenced to 25 years in prison for unpremeditated murder in a combat zone by a military court.
“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,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in the statement, according to CNN.
Michael Behenna deployed to Iraq in 2007, according to The Washington Post.
The following year, two soldiers and friends of Behenna were killed in a roadside explosion and he was on the scene.
Not long after the soldiers’ death, there was an intelligence report saying then-Iraqi operative Ali Mansur possibly helped organize the explosion.
Mansur was brought in and interrogated – but then freed. The military did not have conclusive evidence tying him to the explosion, the Post reported.
Less than a month later, Behenna went to interrogate Mansur on his own, without authorization, stripped Mansur naked and shot him twice.
Behenna acknowledged during his trial that instead of taking the prisoner home as he was ordered, he took the man to a railroad culvert, stripped him, and then questioned him at gunpoint about the roadside bombing.
According to Behenna, Mansur moved toward him and he shot him because Behenna thought he would try to take his gun.
He was convicted of unpremeditated murder and a military sentenced Behenna to 25 years in prison. He was paroled in 2014 and had been scheduled to remain on parole until 2024.
But on Monday, president Trump signed an executive grant of clemency, a full pardon, for 1st Lt. Michael Behenna. Oklahoma’s attorney general first requested a pardon for Behenna in February 2018 and renewed his request last month.
In a statement, White House press secretary Sanders called Behenna a “model prisoner” when he was serving his sentence.
Behenna’s case attracted broad support from the military, Oklahoma elected officials and the public, Sanders said.
She added that Behenna was a model prisoner while serving his sentence, and “in light of these facts, Mr. Behenna is entirely deserving” of the pardon.
But not everyone is happy with the pardon.
Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union National Security Project, called it “a presidential endorsement of a murder that violated the military’s own code of justice.”
“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,” Shamsi said in a statement.