US troops in Iraq: Kill a terrorist, go to prison

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By Douglas J. Hagmann, Director

27 October 2009: Perhaps you’ve heard about this story. If so, please read on for information important to this case you have not read anywhere. If you have read about this incident, definitely read on as it will most likely change your mind about the “guilt” of a soldier convicted of murdering an al Qaeda terrorist in Iraq.

Yes, you’ve read that correctly - a US soldier has been convicted of murder for killing an al Qaeda terrorist in Iraq. Since the wholesale murder of nearly 3,000 people on American soil on 9/11, it’s been my understanding that killing terrorists is something that we’ve asked our soldiers to do on our behalf so that we may sleep more safely and soundly in our beds at night. Unlike our enemy, however, we must kill them by the rules, of course.

Here are the basic facts of this case. On March 20th, 2009, Army Ranger 1st Lieutenant Michael Behenna, Company D, 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, based in Fort Campbell, KY was sentenced to 25 years in prison for killing a man known Ali Mansur, a known al Qaeda terrorist suspected of planning and executing an attack on Lieutenant Behenna’s platoon in April 2008 that killed two US soldiers and injured two others. For reasons unknown, US Army intelligence ordered the terrorist’s release, and ordered Lieutenant Behenna to give Ali a ride back to his home. Following orders, Behenna transported the al Qaeda suspect and then attempted one final interrogation of Mansur prior to his release.  What happened next is the reason that Lieutenant Behenna found himself facing murder charges.

According to Army Lieutenant Behenna, the al Qaeda terrorist lunged at him during this questioning. With his arms extended forward in a classic attack posture, Mansur attacked the Lieutenant when he turned to look at an interpreter who was reporting what Mansur said. At that point, Lieutenant Behenna fired twice at Ali Mansur in self defense, hitting him once in the chest and once in the head. According to prosecutors, Lieutenant Behenna “executed” the terrorist while he was “in a non-threatening position.”

After an investigation, US Army Lieutenant was put on trial for premeditated murder, found guilty and subsequently sentenced to 25 years in prison. But there’s a problem. The specialized forensic evidence did not support the prosecution’s case. And there’s an even bigger problem. That exculpatory evidence, the very evidence that could exonerate the lieutenant of the charge of murdering a terrorist was not made available to the defense in accordance with the rules of criminal procedure.

The Forensic Evidence

The exculpatory evidence was uncovered by world renowned forensic expert Herbet Leon MacDonell, director of the Laboratory of Forensic Science, who was actually retained by the prosecution to prove the facts of their case. Professor MacDonell conducted a thorough and careful examination of the ballistic and blood spatter evidence pertaining to this shooting incident. After an exhaustive examination and recreation of events, Mr. MacDonell reached the conclusion that supported Lieutenant Behenna’s account (and this is important) that the terrorist was in an attack posture and not positioned in the manner the prosecution asserted. Considering his conclusion, the prosecution opted not to use his testimony. Mr. MacDonell was then summarily dismissed, but dutifully reported his findings as recorded here.

Again, it is critical to understand that this evidence was never made available to the defense of Lieutenant Behenna.

Although I never met Lieutenant Behenna, I have been trained in the physical significance of blood spatter at the Laboratory of Forensic Science by Mr. MacDonell himself. I hold certification in that discipline after working under the direct tutelage of Mr. MacDonell, who has consulted on numerous high-profile cases including the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, just to name two such cases. As far as the forensic analysis of blood spatter and related evidence, Mr. MacDonell is unequaled in knowledge and experience, and is considered the father of modern day blood spatter analysis.

hlmteachDuring my time with Professor MacDonell (pictured at left at the Laboratory of Forensic Science), I’ve heard him relentlessly state that forensic evidence does not lie, people do. Also, a lie by omission is a lie just the same. In this case, that omission is keeping one of America’s finest and bravest behind bars, and it is a travesty of justice and an insult to every American in uniform.

It is important to understand that blood spatter evidence in many instances is used to show what could not or did not happen, and unlike the crime dramas on television, not necessarily what did happen. In the case of Lieutenant Behenna, MacDonell’s re-creation of the bullet trajectories and the blood spatter evidence on the terrorist’s clothing and at the scene clearly support the al Qaeda terrorist could not have been “executed” as claimed by the prosecution.  Based on my experience in this forensic discipline, despite the limited documentation I’ve been privy to in this case, I would have to concur with the findings that refute the prosecution’s assertion of events.

The analysis of the forensic evidence alone should have been sufficient to pierce the standard of reasonable doubt needed to convict Lieutenant Behenna. Unfortunately, it never saw the light of day in its proper form, and now a US Army officer fighting for the safety of every American is sitting in prison as a direct result of this omission of exculpatory evidence.

The front line of defense against terrorism has been marginalized by this blatant miscarriage of justice.

For more information, visit the Defend Michael web site here.

Pat Campbell, talk show host at KFAQ 1170-AM in Tulsa, Oklahoma interviewed Vicki Behenna on Monday, October 26, 2009. That important interview can be heard at this link.