OKLAHOMA CITY - President Donald Trump has granted full pardon for former U.S. Army 1st Lt. Michael Behenna of Oklahoma.
In 2009, Behenna was convicted of unpremeditated murder in a combat zone after killing suspected al-Qaida terrorist Ali Mansur in Iraq. A military court sentenced Behenna to 25 years, but he was released on parole in 2014 and had been scheduled to remain on parole until 2024.
"Not to say that every decision in the military court makes is flawed, but this one certainly was," said Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter.
Hunter is calling the executive clemency the right move. Hunter recently renewed his 2018 call for Behenna’s pardon by sending letters to Trump and Attorney General William Barr, arguing the U.S. Department of Justice regulations interfered with the president’s pardon powers.
"Lt. Behenna was trying to take care of his troops, trying to protect his men. Two of them have been killed. He was convinced this individual he had been interrogating was a part of those murders, and he was doing his best trying to find out who was behind it," Hunter told News 4. "The evidence in a holistic way wasn’t reviewed, I think, in a clear eye, fair way by the tribunal. Both the appellate courts as well as numerous other admirals and generals around the country who have looked at this in the interim agree it was a miscarriage of justice."
A statement from the White House notes Behenna’s case "has attracted broad support from the military, Oklahoma elected officials and the public," adding he was a "model prisoner."
"I thank President Trump for his tremendous act of mercy," Behenna said in a statement of his own. "I also want to express my sincerest gratitude for the incredible outpouring of support for my family, including former Governor Mary Fallin, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter, my lawyers at King & Spalding, who handled the matter pro bono, and all those members of the public who wrote letters and sent words of encouragement on my behalf."
NBC News reports prosecutors had alleged Behenna shot and killed Mansur in retaliation for an attack which killed two of Behenna's fellow soldiers. He was accused of taking Mansur to a remote desert location, stripping him naked and shooting him. Behenna insisted it was an act of self defense, claiming he was afraid Mansur would take his gun.
"As far as I’m concerned, Lt. Behenna was actually protecting his soldiers, his comrades, two of them had been killed," Hunter said. "It was a miscarriage of justice. It was something that motivated us to get involved with asking the president to intervene."
Taking to Twitter Tuesday, the ACLU's national headquarters criticized the pardon, tweeting "This pardon is a presidential endorsement of a murder that violated the military's own code of justice. Military leaders, including Trump as commander-in-chief, should prevent war crimes — not endorse or excuse them."
In response, Hunter called the remark "disappointing."
"I think that is focused more on the difference in opinion and the attitudes about the president that the ACLU holds," he said. "Our responsibility is to the truth and to the facts. It’s not the politics. It’s not subjective. It’s not based on emotion. This is one of those cases."