Savage sparks $50,000 bump in soldier’s defense fund

By Bob Unruh

Michael Behenna

The defense fund for a soldier convicted of shooting an al-Qaida operative he reported had tried to attack him has gotten a $50,000 boost thanks to the involvement of radio personality Michael Savage, and his defenders now are planning to request a personal meeting with the secretary of the Army about the case.

“I am committed to requesting a personal meeting with the secretary of the Army, John McHugh and ask him to release Michael,” wrote Vicki Behenna, the mother of convicted 1st Lt. Michael Behenna.

WND previously has reported on the case, including when the Army Clemency Board last month reduced the sentence for Behenna from 20 to 15 years – even as his appeal remained pending before higher courts.

A focal point of the appeal – as well as the arguments in support of clemency – is the fact that a statement by a witness for the prosecution in the case confirmed that Behenna’s own description of shooting the al-Qaida operative – Ali Mansur – in self-defense was the only explanation supported by the facts.

The issue is raising concern because of the decision by the prosecution to not only exclude the statement from the case but withhold it from the defense until after the conviction.

Behenna’s story is profiled on the Defend Michael website.

Savage recently raised the issues involved in the case on his program, urging his listeners to get involved and taking the lead with a $10,000 donation to Behenna’s defense fund. Vicki Behenna then confirmed the results.

“Since you first began discussing Michael’s case we have received approximately $40,000 in donations to his legal defense fund. That does not include the $10,000 you sent from your legal defense fund. For that we are truly grateful,” she wrote to Savage in a letter published on his site.

“As you know Michael’s case is in the Army Court of Appeals. Mr. Zimmermann, Michael’s lead defense counsel, filed Michael’s appellate brief on December 22, 2009,” she continued.

She also reported on the results of the clemency hearing.

“I told the board that Mansur was a member of al-Qaida who tried to attack Michael and that his response in shooting Mansur was a combat specific incident that would not be repeated in a civilian situation,” she said.

She cited the Army’s own confidence in her son, assigning him to work on the security detail for President Bush while the charges for the death of Mansur were pending.

“Clearly, the Army did not consider Michael to be a threat otherwise they would never have allowed him to work that closely with the Secret Service,” she told Savage.

She also thanked Savage for the 1,000-plus letters her son had gotten from Savage’s listeners.

Vicki Behenna, an assistant U.S. attorney, has told WND her goal is a full vindication.

Mansur had been questioned in Iraq in connection with an attack that killed members of Behenna’s squad. Then authorities ordered his release and told Behenna to escort Mansur back to his home.

On the way there, Behenna questioned Mansur again. The prosecution alleges Behenna ordered Mansur to sit down on a rock and executed him. Behenna, however, said he had turned to look at an interpreter and glanced back to see Mansur lunging for his gun.

He said he fired one shot as Mansur had his arms raised and was lunging for the gun and fired a second shot that apparently hit Mansur in the head as he fell.

Michael Behenna, the day before leaving for Iraq

The dispute arose because of the testimony prepared by Herbert MacDonell, a forensics expert who heads the Laboratory for Forensic Science in Corning, N.Y. Called by the prosecution, he concluded Behenna’s account of the situation was the truth. Prosecutors then chose not to have him testify.

They also declined to inform the defense of MacDonell’s observations until after the conviction.

In an e-mail obtained by defense counsel after the trial, MacDonell wrote he was “concerned” he was not allowed to testify “and have a chance to inform the court of the only logical explanation for this shooting.”

He said, “As I demonstrated to you and to the other two prosecutors, Dr. Berg, Sgt. McCaulley, and Sgt. Rogers, from the evidence I feel that Ali Mansur had to have been shot in his chest when he was standing. As he dropped straight down he was shot again at the very instant that his head passed in front of the muzzle.

“Admittedly, this would be an amazing coincidence, however, it fits the facts and … I cannot think of a more logical explanation,” he continued.

“This scenario is consistent with the two shots being close together, consistent with their horizontal trajectory, consistent with the bloodstains on the floor, and consistent with the condition of the 9 mm flattened out bullet which was tumbling. … When I heard Lt. Michael Behenna testify [Thursday] as to the circumstances of how the two shots were fired I could not believe how close it was to the scenario I had described to you on Wednesday. I am sure that had I testified I would have wanted to give my reenactment so the jury could have had the option of considering how well the defendant’s story fit the physical facts,” he wrote.

“This, of course, would not have been helpful to the prosecution case. However, I feel that it is quite important as possible exculpatory evidence,” he said.

American court procedures call for prosecutors to provide any exculpatory evidence – information that could help the defense – to defense attorneys in the case.

But according to reports, defense counsel Jack Zimmerman asked prosecutors if they had any such information and was told no.

“Prosecutors withholding of this evidence allowed them to argue that Lt. Behenna executed Ali Mansur while seated when the forensic experts, including Dr. MacDonnell, agree that Ali was standing with his arms outstretched when shot,” according to the lieutenant’s advocates.

Behenna was deployed to Iraq in September 2007. The next April his platoon was attacked by al-Qaida, and he lost two platoon members and two Iraqi citizens working with him.

On May 5, 2008, Mansur, described as a “known terrorist,” was detained on suspicion of being involved. But 11 days later, Army Intelligence officers ordered his release. They ordered Behenna to escort Mansur home.

Behenna now is in Fort Leavenworth.

Savage previously worked in support of those defending Lt. Col. Jeffrey Chessani, who was brought up on charges over the so-called Haditha massacre in Iraq only after Rep. John Murtha publicly denounced U.S. Marines as cold-blooded killers. The prosecution against Chessani ultimately failed.