EDMOND, Okla. — The parents of an Edmond soldier who is serving a 15-year sentence in Ft. Leavenworth for killing an Iraqi national in 2008 will testify next week before a military panel reviewing cases involving soldiers killing civilians in combat zones.
In July, the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces in a 3-2 split upheld the unpremeditated murder conviction of 1st Lt. Michael Behenna, of Edmond, son of Edmond residents Scott and Vicki Behenna.
Behenna will be eligible for parole after serving a third of his sentence.
On Wednesday, Scott Behenna said during the Jan. 22 hearing he and Vicki will testify before the Defense Legal Policy Board, a new Department of Defense subcommittee. They will address cases in which the persons killed were insurgents or members of al-Qaida, Behenna said.
A Department of Defense memo on the hearing stated that occasionally leaders need to ensure that the military justice system “remains fair, credible, and dependable in today’s world” by assessing whether certain reforms are warranted.
“The application of military justice to Service members alleged to have committed offenses against civilians in combat zones is of particular concern to me,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta stated.
The memo recommends assessing six areas. They include: Does the military justice system in deployed areas preserve the rights of the accused, victims and witnesses? In joint deployed areas should military justice be pursued within the joint force utilizing joint resources? In deployed areas are resources adequate enough for the investigation of offenses and the administration of justice?
An issue for supporters in some cases including Behenna’s has been “catch and release” in which terrorists are released from military custody.
In Behenna’s case, his parents note that without explanation Army intelligence ordered the release of the Iraqi national. The Iraqi was described in court as a member of a terrorist cell.
Scott Behenna said he hopes the committee will take some of their suggestions and look into some glaring problems with military investigations and prosecutions.
During its first hearing in November, the majority of the testimony was from civil rights groups that wanted to see more prosecutions of soldiers and/or Marines, and made allegations that the government was whitewashing investigations, Behenna said.
The military subcommittee will submit its own advice and recommendations along with a copy of its report within 210 days, according to the memo. Prior to that date, the report will be submitted in draft form to the Military Department for comment.
In the decision regarding Behenna, the majority of the Court of Appeals panel ruled that the soldier erred by taking the Iraqi to a culvert for an unauthorized interrogation and in the process gave up any right to defend himself no matter what happened.
Behenna’s parents note that no U.S. police officer loses their right to defend themselves in similar situations.
The Behennas recently filed on behalf of their son a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court, the last legal venue available to the soldier. It would be the first time his case would be heard outside the military justice system.
“We hope and pray the civilian judges on the Supreme Court will have a far different view of a Soldier’s right to defend oneself in a war zone when attacked by a member of al-Qaeda,” the Behennas wrote on their website DefendMichael.com, where guests can sign the petition.
They stated Michael’s team of attorneys produced a petition that gives their son the best chance to obtain a Supreme Court review.
The Behennas will also be back in Washington on Feb. 7 for Behenna’s fourth clemency hearing.