America is truly a blessed land. This is not a secret, as people from all parts of the world try everything from walking the deserts without water to paddling in trashcans through the ocean to reach the place where the “American dream” happens. While there are many factors that bring about America’s continued prosperity such as the free market, our capitalist system, our constitution with its valuable principles, and the tolerance found within the Christian foundations of this nation, these things have flourished only because America has remained free.
Even in the nation today where we face the ongoing struggle to maintain the components of America’s success, we must never forget the cost in American blood and sacrifice that has afforded this country the stability to develop and establish what is truly the envy of the planet. What are the responsibilities-and dare I say the duties-of the U.S. citizenry to those who guard the outposts of this country’s defensive lines, those who walk the patrols in foreign lands where our enemies lurk while we the American people go about our little errands of life?
The case of 1st Lieutenant Michael Behenna, a soldier convicted and sentenced to twenty-five years in prison for the alleged murder of suspected Al Qaeda operative Ali Mansur in Iraq is a disturbing story on several levels. The story itself is painful to me as a Kansan since I learned that Behenna has been in military prison in Fort Leavenworth (yes the same facility in which Barack Obama wanted to house terrorist detainees from Guantanamo Bay) for almost a year and I knew nothing about Behenna or his case. The minimal news coverage about his story is unsettling.
I learned that Michael Behenna came from a stable family with a mother who is a U.S. Attorney and a father who is a retired Oklahoma Bureau of Investigations agent. Behenna excelled in the military, and while in Iraq served as a platoon commander. His most recent officer evaluation before the Ali Mansur shooting incident was stellar. In fact, the comments for his potential for promotion made it abundantly clear that Behenna was a soldier on the fast track upward. Now barring parole, Behenna, who was twenty-five years old at the time of his sentence, will be forty years old by the time of his release. The question that screams out in this case is, “how did this happen?”
What is known is that Behenna’s platoon was plagued with the threat of roadside bombs and insurgent attacks and on April 21, 2008, his platoon was ambushed and two of his soldiers were killed. Ali Mansur was believed to be responsible for the attack and was later detained and questioned by Army Intelligence. In a strange set of events, Ali Mansur was released by Army Intelligence and Behenna was ordered to transport the suspected Al Qaeda member back to his home. Instead of taking Ali Mansur home, Behenna attempted an interrogation for additional information from the suspected Al Qaeda member and during this interrogation Ali Mansur was shot and killed.
In hopes of shining more light on the case, I was given the opportunity to talk about the incident with Michael Behenna’s mother Vicki on my radio program “Conscience of Kansas.” Vicki Behenna, an articulate woman, stated that her son pleaded self-defense in the case saying that Ali Mansur had attempted to take his weapon during the interrogation. She further said that the prosecution’s expert during the trial, a Dr. Herbert MacDonnell who was not called to testify in the case, corroborated Behenna’s trial testimony that Ali Mansur was in a standing position when shot versus the prosecution’s assertion that he was in a seated position. This crucial witness was not made available to the defense during the trial. Behenna’s case is on appeal.
Since the sentencing of Michael Behenna, a clemency letter has been sent to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, by politicians James Inhofe, Frank Lucas, Tom Coburn, John Sullivan, Tom Cole, and Dan Boren. For myself the case of 1st Lieutenant Michael Behenna seems painfully similar in many ways to the stories of Ramos and Compean, the soldier-related Haditha shootings, and Navy Seals in the Ahmed Hashim Abed incident, among many others. In many of these cases those who are charged with America’s security were placed in almost untenable situations in which mistakes and errors could easily come to fruition while mercy and justice lagged painfully far behind.
The question that stands before Americans today is what is owed to those that protect our lives and freedoms? Is proper media coverage a mandatory precursor to justice in cases like Behenna’s? Should the public demand the freedom of soldiers accused, if not convicted in defense-related cases in the war zone? Should the American people demand that those who defend our lives be given at least the benefit of the doubt? For those who put everything on the line, should protection come with reward? The answers to these questions must be based on the value we place on the protectors of our liberty. If we hold them dear to our hearts, if we find merit in the toils of their labor, then we must face the debt that we owe to them; we must take up the mantle of responsibility to insure that their sacrifices for us are not in vain.
Paul A. Ibbetson is a former Chief of Police of Cherryvale, Kansas, and member of the Montgomery County Drug Task Force. Paul received his Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in Criminal Justice at Wichita State University, and is currently completing his PhD. in sociology at Kansas State University. Paul is the author of the books Living Under The Patriot Act: Educating A Society and Feeding Lions: Sharing The Conservative Philosophy In A Politically Hostile World. Paul is also the radio host of the Kansas Broadcasting Association’s 2008 and 2009 Entertainment Program of the Year, Conscience of Kansas airing on KSDB Manhattan 91.9 f.m. www.ibbetsonusa.com. For interviews or questions, please contact [email protected]