President Donald Trump on Monday evening pardoned an American soldier for murdering an Iraqi prisoner in 2008, generating outrage from progressives and human rights activists.
First Lt. Michael Behenna was sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2009 for the murder, and released on parole in 2014.
The killing came a month after two of Behenna’s fellow soldiers were killed in a roadside bomb. According to The New York Times, Behenna and his unit believed they had captured the architect of that attack.
During a deployment in Iraq in 2008, First Lt. Michael Behenna and his platoon believed the man, Ali Mansur, was a terrorist linked to Al Qaeda. They took him to a remote part of the Iraqi desert to question him about a previous attack that left two American soldiers dead, according to court filings. During the interrogation, Lieutenant Behenna shot Mr. Mansur in the head and chest.
Human rights activist Qasim Rashid noted the details of the crime on Twitter.
Behenna was ordered to release an innocent Iraqi man they had no evidence to hold
•dragged him under a bridge
•stripped him naked
•shot him dead
•set a grenade under his corpse to burn the body
45 just pardoned him😐https://t.co/b3n5a2lGxj
— Qasim Rashid, Esq. (@QasimRashid) May 7, 2019
Critics of the president’s decision stressed its negative implications, including the dangerous message it sends to the world.
“This pardon is a presidential endorsement of a murder that violated the military’s own code of justice,” said Hina Shamsi, the director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, in a statement provided to Common Dreams. “The military appeals court found Behenna disobeyed orders, became the aggressor against his prisoner, and had no justification for killing a naked, unarmed Iraqi man in the desert, away from an actual battlefield.”
In court filings reviewed by the Times, Behenna allegedly said that “he would do it again, and he did not feel bad about it because he just lost two guys.”
Trump’s pardon of Behenna came after politicians in the soldier’s native Oklahoma and retired military figures mounted a sustained campaign for Behenna, a campaign that commentator Nate Bethea, a U.S. military veteran who served in Afghanistan, opined was driven by right-wing callousness.
“All Republicans agree with this because all Republicans think no American soldier should go to jail for murdering someone overseas,” said Bethea. “They don’t think it counts as murder.”
All Republicans agree with this because all Republicans think no American soldier should go to jail for murdering someone overseas. They don’t think it counts as murder. pic.twitter.com/0VXJsUuwWb
— Nate Bethea (@inthesedeserts) May 7, 2019
The pardon also comes in the context of an effort by far-right figures to convince the president to pardon Major Mathew Golsteyn, who murdered an unarmed suspected bomb-maker in Afghanistan in 2010.
Trump pardons former US soldier who killed Iraqi prisoner
Next up, pardon Matt Golsteyn and Eddie Gallagher. https://t.co/SATLkmSMEh
— John Cardillo (@johncardillo) May 7, 2019
“This pardon from Trump is just another part of his white supremacy tour,” said activist Shaun King.
This pardon from Trump is just another part of his white supremacy tour.
It's his way of saying that when a white man kills a Muslim – even if he disobeys orders and is convicted of murder – that the Muslim deserves it and that the white man deserves a break/sympathy.
— Shaun King (@shaunking) May 7, 2019
The Atlantic‘s Adam Serwer said that the pardon could have unintended consequences. By eroding the rules of engagement and endorsing the murder of prisoners, Serwer said, Trump could be putting U.S. service members in danger.
But, Serwer added, that’s not the goal of the pardon.
“The point of [this] though, like the Arpaio pardon, is to send the message that certain groups of people simply have no rights that the US government is bound to respect,” said Serwer.
The point of his though, like the Arpaio pardon, is to send the message that certain groups of people simply have no rights that the US government is bound to respect.
— Adam Serwer🍝 (@AdamSerwer) May 7, 2019
Rudy Giuliani sneaked off to meet Ukrainian officials in Madrid about Biden conspiracy theories: report
On Wednesday, The New York Times reported that President Donald Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani secretly traveled to Madrid in recent weeks to meet with a top aide of new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to go fishing for dirt on Democrats.
One of the key focuses of Giuliani's phone calls and in-person meetings was to try to dig up evidence that former Vice President Joe Biden acted improperly to remove a Ukrainian prosecutor investigating an energy company his son was invested in — which has been broadly discredited as conspiracy theories. He also tried to hunt for proof that Ukrainian officials colluded with Democrats to hurt Trump's campaign in 2016, a claim which is not supported by evidence.
At least eight prison officials knew Epstein wasn’t supposed to be left alone — but they did it anyway: report
On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that at least eight staffers at the Bureau of Prisons were aware that arrested hedge fund manager Jeffrey Epstein could be a risk to himself if left unsupervised — raising further questions about why exactly guards left him to his own devices on the night that he allegedly hanged himself.
Investigators reportedly believe that at least some of these officials were aware that he had been left alone. It is unclear why nobody intervened, and the Justice Department is continuing with its investigation. Attorney General William Barr recently ordered the removal of the acting director of the Bureau of Prisons.
Russian disqualified from Tango competition for punching his partner
A Russian participant in the World Tango Championships in Buenos Aires has been disqualified for violence towards his partner, the organizers said Wednesday.
The incident happened after the duo, a husband and wife, took part in the semi-final of the competition on Tuesday in the Argentine capital.
Organizers condemned the assault plus "assisted the victim and made the decision to disqualify the dancer," said a source with the Championships who declined to be named.
Officials did not name the couple in order "to preserve the identity of the victim who declined to file a complaint."