I was on facebook yesterday and strangely enough got a request to be part of a group to defend LT Behenna. One of my friends sent me the link and I thought it was ironic that he did not know that I represented SSG Warner and had watched the trial of LT Behenna. I believe part of the request was to sign a petition in order to have LT Behenna pardoned. With this current administration and their take on the war in Iraq, I believe that is highly unlikely, but it would be a viable way to mitigate the very heavy sentence in this case.
LT Behenna and SSG Warner were both part of a very tragic story. Several weeks before the killing of Ali Mansur took place, LT Behenna’s squad had captured Ali Mansur at his home. They had credible information to believe he was part of Al Qaeda and that he was a terrorist that had been involved in the death of several of LT Behenna’s squad members. The members of LT Behenna’s squad, along with SSG Warner, showed restrained at that time. If they had wanted to, they could have easily made up a plausible story that Ali Mansur resisted his capture. There were illegal weapons at Ali Mansur’s home and it would have been a simple matter to kill him during the armed take down of that home. But, that is not what happened.
LT Behenna and the members of his squad decided that they would let the “authorities” investigate Ali Mansur. They dropped him off at a detention facility with all of the information that they knew about his terrorist activities and hoped that justice would prevail. Instead, within a matter of weeks, LT Behenna and his squad were asked to return Ali Mansur to his home and his village. Military Intelligence determined that they didn’t have enough to hold Ali Mansur despite the RPGs, weaponry and illegal passports from Iran that were found at his home. Clearly, Ali Mansur was involved in nefarious activities and LT Behenna believed he had credible evidence to prove that.
LT Behenna’s frustration at the release of Ali Mansur back to his family was understandable. After witnessing the death of the men in his squad, in what he believed was directly related to the activities of Ali Mansur, was surely a motivating factor in driving Ali Mansur to the desert and stripping him naked.
These events are very much a picture of what is occurring in both Iraq and Afghanistan. We ask our soldiers to toe the line, and to deal with whatever decision comes from higher, even if they don’t understand the wherefore’s and the why’s. For many, the resulting death of Ali Mansur, is no tragedy. For them, the resulting incarceration of LT Behenna for avenging his men, is the true tragedy.
As a former JAG, I understand the need for the laws of war. I just don’t believe ultimately that the decisions that are made on the battlefield are so easily codified and analyzed as to fit in the Geneva Conventions. If SSG Warner and LT Behenna had deliberately decided to kill Ali Mansur when they picked him on that first day, would that have gotten LT Behenna 25 years of jail? Probably not.