Trump's pardoning of former US soldier slammed by critics as 'endorsement of murder', raises questions about other pending cases
On Monday US President Donald Trump granted a full pardon to a former US Army lieutenant who had previously served five years in prison after he fatally shot an Iraqi man who was detained by American forces. The executive clemency of Michael Behenna has now raised questions and has attracted criticism about the other ongoing US military court cases that involved allegations of war crimes which President Trump has expressed interest in.
Among all the pending cases is the one against Navy SEAL Edward “Eddie” Gallagher, who was accused of killing an Islamic State fighter, Newsweek reported. Trump had previously ordered that Gallagher be moved to a less restrictive confinement in a tweet in March last year.
In December, Trump said that he will be reviewing the case of a "U.S. Military hero" through Twitter and named former Army Green Beret Major Matthew Golsteyn, who has been alleged to have murdered a detainee. The detainee was suspected of being a bombmaker for the Taliban in Afghanistan. Even though Trump has been gaining support from his base, the decision to pardon Behenna was met with criticism from veterans as well as the American Civil Liberties Union.
The director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, Hina Shamsi, said in a statement on May 7: "This pardon is 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. Trump, as Commander-in-Chief, and top military leaders should prevent war crimes, not endorse or excuse them."
In 2008, while he was on deployment to Iraq, Behenna believed that Ali Mansur, who was a suspected al-Qaeda operative, was responsible for the deaths of two other US Army soldiers whose vehicle was hit with an IED. The platoon’s interpreter said at a pre-trial hearing in 2008 that Behenna and Staff Sergeant Hal Warner reportedly stripped Mansur of his clothes using their knives and questioned him about the IED attack.
According to the interpreter and another platoon member, Corporal Cody Atkinson, Behenna then shot and killed Mansur while Warner reportedly took out a thermite grenade from his pocket, pulled the pin, and placed it under Mansur's head. Two soldiers then hid Mansur's clothes and told the other members of the platoon to tell senior leaders that they released the suspected terrorist.
Behenna said at his trial that he had acted out of self-defense after Mansur allegedly threw a chunk of concrete at him and then reached for his sidearm. The White House statement read that former US Army lieutenant was found guilty of "unpremeditated murder in a combat zone" and was sentenced to 25 years behind bars. The U.S. Army Clemency and Parole Board then reduced his sentence to 15 years. Behenna was released on parole in 2014 after serving five years of his sentence.
The White House said in its statement that Behenna "has attracted broad support from the military, Oklahoma elected officials, and the public". On May 7, however, the announcement received mixed reviews on social media.
Republican from Oklahoma and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee Senator Jim Inhofe thanked Trump for granting Behenna clemency in a statement that was released from his office. It said: "I am happy for Michael [Behenna] and his family as they close this difficult chapter. He served his time and the president has granted him a clean slate and a fresh start. I wish him all the best for the future."