I am the lead counsel in US v. Warner. I am a military lawyer and nothing in this blog is meant to be construed as developing an attorney-client relationship between me and you. If you want me to be your lawyer, contact either –www.jamesphillipslaw.com and www.ucmjlawyer.com. Also, this update is written with the permission of my client SSG Mitch Warner. He has consented to waive any attorney-client privilege to help clear his name.
As a military defense counsel, any time you go to trial there is a wide array of emotions. Today was one of those days. SSG Mitch Warner was sentenced by Judge Theodore E. Dixon at Fort Campbell, Kentucky to 17 months of confinement, reduction to E-1, and a Bad Conduct Discharge. He was found guilty, based on his own pleas to charges of Assault Consummated by Battery, False Official Statement and Maltreatment. Three charges were dismissed by the Government prosecutors: premeditated murder, obstruction of justice, and accessory after-the-fact.
The charges that were dismissed were more significant than the charges that what SSG Warner plead guilty to. The press has continually pointed their finger at SSG Warner as though he was a co-conspirator with 1LT Behenna in planning to kill the Iraqi detainee in this case. There is nothing farther from the truth. SSG Warner had no knowledge that the detainee Ali Mansur was going to be killed on 16 May 2009. He had no intention of killing Ali Mansur. He did not want Ali Mansur dead.
The sentencing case offered problems for both the defense and the prosecution of SSG Warner’s case. SSG Warner is a great soldier and an infantry Non-Commissioned Officer. He served in Iraq multiple times. At the sentencing hearing, one of the Sergeants that served with him in Iraq described how he and SSG Warner had come under fire when an IED exploded on the vehicle that they were in. SSG Warner and SSG Seal had to pull out one of the soldiers in the vehicle who had been mortally wounded by the IED. In the process of pulling the soldier out of the vehicle, her arm fell off. SSG Warner was able to set up a landing zone for the choppers to come in and medivac soldiers. He was wounded in the incident and continued to help his wounded comrades.
1LT Michael Behenna will go on trial next week for the charged offense of premeditated murder. He is represented by a very capable civilian attorney, Jack Zimmerman, out of Texas. They will have to deal with many of the same issues the we had to deal with in US v. Warner.
Ali Mansur, the Iraqi that was maltreated near COB Speicher, was killed in Iraq last May. Ali Mansur was allegedly murder by 1LT Behenna. He was a suspected member of Al Qeada. The members of 5th platoon believed that Ali Mansur was the chief financier in the killing of several members of 5th platoon. Members of the platoon, to include SSG Warner and 1LT Behenna captured Ali Mansur after an IED exploded that killed the members of 5th platoon. There was intelligence to indicate that Ali Mansur was involved in the killing and after he was detained by 5th platoon, he was processed into the detention facility.
Unfortunately, the Chain of Command in this case decided to release Ali Mansur and they had 5th platoon release him back into the civilian population. Ali Mansur never made it back to the village. He was stripped naked in the desert and shot. The allegation against 1LT Behenna is that he shot Ali Mansur point blank.
SSG Warner was in the wrong place at the wrong time. 1LT Behenna is accused of leading Ali Mansur into the desert and shooting him point blank. SSG Warner, unfortunately, believed that they would humiliate Ali Mansur and make him walk back to his home naked. This is the offense maltreatment offense SSG Warner plead guilty. SSG Warner did not have any knowledge that Ali Mansur would be shot and killed.
As an NCO, SSG Warner should probably have stopped his 1LT. He had a duty to uphold the Army values and he has admitted that he didn’t do that. For the defense and SSG Warner, it is a victory that the charges of premeditated murder, accessory after-the-fact and obstruction of justice were dismissed. This properly reflects the fact that SSG Warner did not have any responsibility for the death of Ali Mansur.
Ultimately, this case highlights a disturbing issue. With so many deployments, soldiers like SSG Warner can make mistakes in the combat zone. It has become increasingly hard to distinguish enemy combatants from civilians. Ali Mansur had a questionable status and was being investigated for possible involvement in killing US soldiers. SSG Warner has served our country loyally and made a mistake. Today, the Army lost a great combat soldier.