US President Donald Trump has pardoned a former US soldier convicted in 2009 of killing an Iraqi prisoner, the White House announced late on Monday.
Trump signed an executive grant of clemency, a full pardon, for former Army 1st Lieutenant Michael Behenna, of Oklahoma, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said.
Behenna was convicted of unpremeditated murder in a combat zone after killing a suspected al-Qaeda fighter in Iraq. He was paroled in 2014 and had been scheduled to remain on parole until 2024.
A military court had sentenced Behenna to 25 years in prison. However, the Army’s highest appellate court noted concern about how the trial court had handled Behenna’s claim of self-defence, Sanders said. The Army Clemency and Parole Board also reduced his sentence to 15 years and paroled him as soon as he was eligible.
Behenna’s case attracted broad support from the military, Oklahoma elected officials and the public, Sanders said.
She added that Behenna was a model prisoner while serving his sentence, and “in light of these facts, Mr Behenna is entirely deserving” of the pardon.
Oklahoma’s two Republican senators, James Lankford and Jim Inhofe, hailed the pardon, thanking Trump for giving Behenna “a clean slate.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) slammed the pardon, saying that it is “a presidential endorsement of murder”.
“Trump, as commander-in-chief, and top military leaders should prevent war crimes, not endorse or excuse them,” said Hina Shamsi, the director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, in a statement to US media.
Behenna acknowledged during his trial that instead of taking the prisoner home as he was ordered, he took the man to a railway culvert, stripped him, and then questioned him at gunpoint about a roadside bombing that had killed two members of Behenna’s platoon.
Behenna, a native of the Oklahoma City suburb of Edmond, said the man moved towards him and he shot him because Behenna thought he would try to take his gun.
Oklahoma’s attorney general first requested a pardon for Behenna in February 2018 and renewed his request last month. Attorney General Mike Hunter said he believed Behenna’s conviction was unjustified because of erroneous jury instructions and the failure of prosecutors to turn over evidence supporting a self-defence claim.