Eleven years ago, U.S. forces arrested an Iraqi man named Ali Mansur, on the suspicion that he was a member of al-Qaeda who had knowledge of a recent roadside bombing that had killed two American soldiers. Intelligence professionals interrogated Mansur. Then, officials ordered Army First Lieutenant Michael Behenna to drive Mansur home.
Instead, Behenna drove the detainee into the desert, stripped him naked, interrogated him at gunpoint, and then shot him in the head and chest. Behenna insists that he shot the naked man he illegally abducted in self-defense. He was convicted of unpremeditated murder.
This week, President Trump awarded Behenna a full pardon. The former soldier had already secured some leniency from the Justice Department; Army Clemency and Parole reduced his sentence from 25 years to 15, and paroled him as soon as he was eligible in 2014. Nevertheless, securing a full pardon for Behenna became a popular cause in his home state of Oklahoma, one embraced by its military community and elected officials. Two of Behenna’s friends died in the roadside bombing that preceded Mansur’s arrest. In his sympathizers’ view, Behenna had only wanted to secure information from Mansur to save other American lives. His actions were rash and insubordinate. But they were the well-intentioned products of trauma — and Mansur would still be alive if he hadn’t attempted to steal the lieutenant’s firearm.
The White House cited this community support along with Behenna’s model behavior as prisoner in a statement justifying his pardon.
Critics argue that the act of clemency could actually endanger American soldiers overseas, by weakening norms against the inhumane treatment of prisoners of war.
During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump defended war crimes in general — and the mass murder of Muslim prisoners of war, in particular — as highly effective and legitimate tools for advancing U.S. national security.
“The other thing with the terrorists is you have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families,” Trump informed Fox & Friends in December 2015. “They care about their lives, don’t kid yourself. When they say they don’t care about their lives, you have to take out their families.”
Two months later at a rally in South Carolina, he told a false story about how General John Pershing put down an insurgency by the Muslim Moro people in the Philippines (after America’s invasion and occupation of those islands) in the early 20th century.
“And there’s a whole thing with swine, and animals, and pigs, and you know the story, okay? They don’t like that. And they were having a tremendous problem with terrorism,” Trump explained. “He took 50 terrorists, and he took 50 men, and he dipped 50 bullets in pig’s blood. You heard that right? He took 50 bullets and he dipped them in pig’s blood, and he had his men load up his rifles, and he lined up the 50 people, and they shot 49 of those people and the 50th person, he said, ‘You go back to your people and you tell them what happened’.”
Eight months into his first term as president, Trump reiterated his admiration for this approach to fighting “terrorism.”
Trump’s other pardons include former Maricopa County sheriff Joe Arpaio, who refused to respect the civil rights of Arizona’s Latino residents despite a court order to cease his unconstitutional racial-profiling practices.
It remains controversial in the mainstream media to describe Donald Trump as a racist.