An email from Scott and Vicki Behenna brings news of a national disgrace: The Army Court of Appeals has upheld Army Ranger Michael Behenna's conviction for killing a known al Qaeda member (whom Michael and Army intelligence believed blew up Michael's convoy) because Michael lost his right to self-defense when he pointed his weapon at the enemy in the war zone.
I wish this were a joke, but it's a tragedy -- for all.
To the thousands of Michael Behenna supporters,
We are pained to share with you that the Army Court of Appeals has upheld Michael’s conviction and denied him a new trial. The appeal process took over two years (six months longer than is allowed by law) and their ruling was an absolute punch in the gut to justice for a young man who fought so bravely for this country.
Back in March of 2009 the sting of Michael’ conviction was eased somewhat by the knowledge that critical evidence was not heard at trial which made us hopeful for a successful appeal. During the trial, from beginning to end, the military argued Michael executed the al-Qaida cell leader Ali Mansur while he was seated on a rock. But in their appeal brief the military changed gears and argued that it didn’t matter how Mansur was killed because Michael lost his right to self-defense the moment he pointed his weapon at Mansur.
From our experience in the civilian appellate process we felt confident that a review of what had occurred during the trial would uncover the egregious errors committed by the Prosecution and the Trial Judge, including the Brady law violation involving non-disclosure of the PROSECUTION expert witness’s opinion that the forensic evidence supported Michael’s testimony of self-defense as the ‘only logical explanation’ of what occurred in that Iraqi culvert.
However, the twisted logic of the Appeals Court not only agreed with the trial judge, but even introduced language in their ruling that was never even part of the original trial. The substance of this appellate opinion was void of any indication that the facts and issues were really evaluated to a logical legal conclusion. The following quotes used in the appellate opinion are indicative of what the appellate court used as a basis for their decision and should strike fear in every soldier and Marine serving in a combat zone:
Commenting on Michael pointing his weapon at Mansur (a known al-Qaida member who both Michael and Army intelligence believed was involved in the blowing up of Michael’s convoy); "If, confronted by this demonstration of DEADLY FORCE, Ali Mansur, under these circumstances, attempts to turn the very same Glock pistol towards appellant, his assailant, there can be no escalation sufficient legally to excuse Ali Mansur's killing." By this logic every time a soldier points his gun at anyone, whether at a checkpoint or entering a village, they have assaulted those people by virtue of pointing their gun at them and if someone gets shot then they should be brought up on charges of murder. No consideration is even given that this is a war zone.
When confronted with Mansur standing and reaching for Michael’s weapon; "There is no evidence that Ali Mansur made contact with the appellant’s weapon. At that point, the appellant (Michael), in full battle armor, with much of his platoon standing nearby, ready to defend him, did not keep moving to the left away from the victim into the vast expanse of desert, did not shout for assistance, but instead shot the victim two times." So if a police officer in America has his gun pointed at a known killer and that killer suddenly lunges for his gun the police officer’s only option is to turn and run while yelling for backup? Seriously, who comes up with this nonsense! Unfortunately, the entire Appellate opinion was full of this kind of logic.
We are to going to appeal to the final level, the Court of Appeals of the Armed Forces (CAAF), but their opinion will take at least eight months to a year before it is issued. Despite losing the first two rounds to a corrupt and outdated military justice system that refused to guarantee one of the most basic rights that Michael and his men fought for – the right to a fair trial, there is one positive to mention: CAAF is a civilian court that is supposed to be completely removed from all military influence. That is a good thing…for what we have learned through this ordeal is that the Military Justice System is in fact beyond broken. As one article on military corruption put it, ‘Military justice for the majority is prefabricated according to the wishes of the local Commander, and the "trial" or "court-martial" is tantamount to a pre-ordained verdict of GUILTY.
How could any court proceeding be considered fair when the "convening authority," by right of title, is given the power to select the judge, the jury and defense and prosecution attorneys? It may go "unsaid," but the implication is very clear - if the convening authority "sees fit" to bring about a court-martial, then the accused can be assumed to be guilty. In the U.S. military, the court-martial conviction rate of 98% "rivals that of Communist China." Innocent until proven guilty" by an "impartial judge" is the right of every American. The military deserves a jury that can seek out the truth without fear of retaliation.’
We want you to know that despite everything that has happened to him over the past three plus years Michael is doing well. In the next week or so we will be sending out a letter that Michael has written to all of you - his incredible supporters who have stood beside him throughout all of this madness. Please continue to contact your Congressional Delegations to put pressure on the Army regarding Michael’s case. And most importantly please continue to write to Michael. All of your efforts have helped us to spread Michael’s story as we promised him we would do when he was hauled away in handcuffs over two and a half years ago. For Michael and the other Leavenworth 10 warriors who are behind bars and the thousands of brave soldiers and Marines who are on the front lines facing an enemy that wants to kill them and a JAG corp that wants to imprison them – THIS FIGHT IS FAR FROM OVER!
Scott & Vicki Behenna
Proud Parents of 1LT Michael Behenna