FORT CAMPBELL, Ky. – An Army officer who shot and killed an Iraqi detainee during an interrogation was convicted of murder Friday night by a military jury.
First Lt. Michael Behenna of Edmond, Okla., avoided conviction on the more serious charge of premeditated murder in the death of the detainee he took aside for questioning last May. A military panel of seven officers at Fort Campbell also found him guilty of assault but acquitted him of making a false statement.
Behenna has testified that he was trying to defend himself when he shot Ali Mansour Mohammed and that the detainee reached for his gun in a secluded railroad culvert near Beiji, Iraq. Behenna said he hadn't intended to kill him.
But Capt. Jason Elbert, a military prosecutor, said the detainee was defenseless against Behenna, and the officer's threats and other actions showed he had planned to kill the man.
"He controlled the whole situation as an officer of the U.S. Army, armed and protected and under no threat," Elbert said.
Defense attorney Jack Zimmerman countered that Behenna was trying to interrogate the detainee, which is why he brought along an Iraqi translator. Behenna has also testified that he threatened Mohammed and pointed his gun at him to scare out information about a roadside bombing that killed two members of his platoon.
"You just don't take a translator to an execution," Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman argued that at the time of the shooting, Behenna was suffering from an acute stress disorder as a result of the bombing. Behenna said Thursday he believed Mohammed was involved in the bombing and could provide names of the insurgents responsible.
After the detainee was shot twice, once in the head and once in the chest, another Fort Campbell soldier testified that he tossed an incendiary grenade on the body.
Staff Sgt. Hal Warner, pleaded guilty this month to charges of assault, maltreatment of a subordinate and making a false statement. Warner, from Braggs, Okla., was sentenced to 17 months in prison and testified against Behenna.