US soldier to be jailed for self defense

Washington Times columnist, Diana West, is a credible, conservative journalist and columnist. I don’t always agree with her perspective, but I have grown to respect her professional ethics, discipline and rigorous fact checking. Unlike Bill O’Reilly, she strives for a more intellectual discussion, rather than the entertainment value of chest-thumping, party line bloviation.

The watchdog organization, has reprinted West’s Blog post in which she passionately defends a US soldier, who shot and killed an Al-Qaeda detainee in Iraq as he lunged for the soldier’s sidearm. She argues that Army Ranger 1st Lt Michael Behenna was wrongly convicted for exercising his right to self-defense in a hostile combat zone.

Michael Behenna during happier times

The fact that the detainee was an enemy combatant and that he lunged for the soldier‘s pistol is not in question. And so it’s easy for any patriot to identify with Ms. West’s outrage. Right? Not so quick…Something about this piece irks me. It took a few reads to sink in, but soon, I found myself backsliding. Why would a credible journalist make a sweeping conclusion on what appears to be a glaring omission of facts?

Kevin Gould, a reader commenting at, says “There’s much more going on in this situation than this brief article presents. It’s selective and inflammatory.” Kevin’s observation is an understatement!

This report focuses on facts of convenience without investigating the backside. It uses a paucity of facts to push readers toward a “We can all agree” conclusion. But the facts are too slim to make that leap. The conclusion is not necessarily wrong, but when encountering this type of reporting, it should certainly raise our collective ‘be wary’ antennae.

She observes that Lieutenant Behenna was convicted by a military court for the unpremeditated murder of Ali Mansur, a detainee and al-Qaeda-operative in Iraq. For reasons not explained, the detainee and acknowledged enemy combatant was in the process of being released after an unsuccessful interrogation. Behenna’s superiors are convinced that he has valuable intelligence that they could not ascertain with available methods. And so—get this—someone asks this random lieutenant to escort and release the enemy, forthwith. (WildDucks know that it is very hard for me to contain a tiny bit of Blogger sarcasm).

Also unexplained is why he was being driven to his home town by Lt. Behenna, an apparent aberration to standard procedure–or why the lieutenant felt that he had the authority or moral imperative to begin a final interrogation during the drive. Even more puzzling is the fact that the former detainee, Mr. Ali, was naked at the time of his release and that he apparently lunged at his lone escort at a moment when clemency and release were imminent(?!)

Whoah! There’s a gaggle of unexplained circumstances and activities in this report!

O.K. That’s cool! Get the story out early and put a few facts on the table. Readers recognize that an elaborate, public explanation of military decisions might be unwise during the ongoing campaign to squash Al Qaeda. But with such little data on what really happened and why, it is certainly unfair to rally in defense of anything. This is not an issue of patriotism. It is simply about fair and balanced reporting. Cite the facts as you know them and–sure–toss in an opinion as columnist & armchair pundit. But a credible cannot arrive at a sweeping conclusion based on such scant data.

Yet, despite the many odd and improbable facts (or, more likely, the unexplained truths), Ms. West issues a patriotic rallying cry in defense of our brave soldier and against the court.

Brave? Quite probably. Innocent of wrongdoing? Perhaps. I can’t imagine the dangers and stress that challenge Lt. Behenna in each day that of his tour amongst throngs of enemies who are indistinguishable from friends and other innocent individuals.

Unlike two of the readers leaving feedback, Kevin Gould and Michael Sanders, I have not served with the Ranger Regiment, nor am I an Iraqi war vet. Like Diana West, I sip afternoon coffee in non-combat luxury at a distance of 6,000 miles. But even a lay person can sense that this brief article omits critical facts—Facts that were in evidence at military court. C’mon Diana! This unconventional ‘drive home’ was clearly not SOP. And the lieutenant’s decision to engage in a little Mano-a-mano interrogation is more than a little bit suspicious—Wouldn’t you say?

I feel for Lt Behenna’s family. I hope that he receives clemency if he had reasonable fear of losing control of a hostile detainee and his pistol. Yet, I wonder if he had been given a mission with a specific and undisclosed motive. In our zeal to be patriotic and supportive of coalition troops, we must recognize that Ms. West is writing an emotionally driven piece without all the facts. That much is crystal clear.

I am not demanding that facts be made public. The timing might not be in our America’s best interest. But I am wary of Ms. West’s conclusion based on what is obviously a very guarded release of ‘convenient’ facts. There is more to this one than meets the eye.

So sayeth Ellery, as it is said. What’s your take on this story?

The IDF dilemma described in another feedback (search for Ira Curtis), presents a serious Catch-22. I would not want to be a juror on the court deciding the Israeli soldier’s culpability. The decision to engage in preemptive killing because you legitimately fear giving away your position to the enemy is the stuff of nightmares. I wonder why the IDF couldn’t hold the child of an enemy as a temporary POW–or perhaps deceive him as to his whereabouts?

1 thought on “US soldier to be jailed for self defense

  1. [AWildDuck received and authenticated this response from Diana West]…

    Dear Ellery,
    Thank you for the kind words, and for inviting me to respond.

    Your befuddlement over the strange sequence of events in the case is not surprising, but I don’t see how it undermines my latest post on this “self-defense” aspect of the case. (There were other legal issues on appeal, which I did not address this time.)

    The US military, as I’m sure you know, continually engaged in “catch and release” in Iraq, one manifestation of the horrors of the urban guerilla war George W. Bush disastrously (and to no lasting benefit) ordered tens of thousands Americans and allied troops.

    Ali Mansur was a prime suspect in IED attacks on Americans which had recently killed two men in Behenna’s platoon.

    Intelligence linked Mansur to “al Qaeda” in Iraq, and, he was captured with incriminating evidence.

    After being “caught,” however, Mansur was “released.”

    “Insufficient” evidence” — although what is “sufficient” under these conditions? (I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Mansur was released because the prison too crowded, or that Mansur had a connection in high places — who knows? But that’s not part of the case.)

    Behenna was then, yes, ordered to take Mansur home. That’s an uncontested fact.

    Why Behenna? I don’t know — I would guess the “logic” was because Mansur lived in “his” area. This strikes me as a failure or breach in the command structure but never to my knowledge entered the case.

    Behenna (likely suffering from PTSD) believed he, himself could get the information necessary to put Mansur back in jail so he didn’t take Mansur home. He took him to a secluded culvert to engage in an interrogation for which he, Behenna, was neither trained nor authorized. (I am pretty positive this unauthorized interrogation never even made it into the charges against him.)

    Behenna threatened Mansur with death unless Mansur told him the truth. He had Mansur drop his clothes to nakedness, as you noted.

    – Mansur sat on a rock. Behenna stood, pistol drawn.
    (Prosecution originally argued that Behenna executed him, sitting on the rock, in cold blood, but the forensics matched Behenna’s account of being rushed.)
    – Mansur chucked a chunk of concrete.
    – When Behenna was distracted, Mansur rushed him.
    – Behenna fired in self-defense.

    The court ruled he had no right to self-defense at that time because he, Behenna, was the so-called initiator of the aggression. (A side question: Wasn’t the invasion itself also an initiation of aggression?)

    The implication here is that in these few life or death seconds, Behenna had to allow Mansur to kill him in order to remain within the law.
    Personally, I find this despicable.

    For“unlawfully” reclaiming his “right to self defense,” Behenna now pays with 15 years of his life.

    It is as if the judges were ruling on wind-up toys in playpen — no context was permitted to inform their analysis of events. Indeed, the court ruled out any and all consideration of war conditions, saying this incident took place “off the battlefield.”

    I find that outrageous, too. Where, tell me, in Iraq was anyplace “off the battlefield.”

    Did justice prevail?

    Coda regarding clemency.

    We have released thousands, probably tens of thousands, of detainess, many murderers with blood on their hands, in Iraq and Afghanistan to show clemency and promote “reconciliation.” Why not show the same clemency and reconciliation to American servicemen like Behenna who wanted to sign up after 9/11, who are not murderers but served their country under untenable conditions imposed on them by their leaders, military and civilian?

    PS. I didn’t write that post “for” but rather posted it on my own blog, — where there are many, many posts and columns on Behenna and other imprisoned US soldiers known as the Leavenworth Ten.

    Best wishes,

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