Despite having written dozens of pieces during the past four years about the conviction of Army Ranger 1st Lt. Michael Behenna, I only recently came to realize he is a victim of a colossal failure of Army leadership. On July 19, I set out to find out who’s to blame.
Six days after members of the Court of Appeals of the Armed Forces upheld the conviction that landed Behenna in prison for 15 years, I filed two Freedom of Information Act requests with the U.S. Army as my first step toward finding answers.
In one request, I asked for “Copies of any and all investigation-related reports prepared by Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID) and any other U.S. Government agencies on and/or after 16 May 2008 as part of the investigation into the shooting death of an Iraqi citizen, Ali Mansur, by Michael Behenna, who is now serving a 15-year sentence at the U.S. Military Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.“
I was informed via electronic letter the same day that my request had been forwarded to the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command (USACIDC) in Quantico, Va., for disposition.
Twenty-six days later, I received a packet in the mail from Susan Cugler, director of the USACIDC Crime Records Center. Inside was a two-page cover letter and 22 heavily-redacted pages representing a fraction of the estimated 874 pages of the Report of Investigation (ROI).
Noteworthy in the Cugler’s response was the fact that three of the pages received indicated that USACIDC is not the release authority for 4 pages contained in the ROI and that I’d have to seek copies of them from the U.S. Army Judiciary Clerk of the Court at Fort Belvoir. In addition, six other pages were “not reasonably segregable” and, therefore, could not be provided.
In the other FOIA request, I asked for “Copies of any and all U.S. Government, U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. Army, communications — print, broadcast and electronic — related to the U.S. ARMY 15-6 INVESTIGATION REPORT prepared as part of the investigation” of the deadly incident.
Via electronic letter the same day, I learned my request had been forwarded from the Army’s FOIA Office at Fort Belvoir, Va., to the FOIA office at Fort Campbell, Ky. Fort Campbell is home to the Army’s 101st Airborne Infantry Division, parent command of the 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment to which Behenna’s 18-member Delta Company, 5th Platoon belonged.
Twenty-nine days later, I received a letter from Valerie M. Florez, Freedom of Information and Privacy Act Officer at Fort Campbell. Noteworthy in her response, dated Aug. 16, 2012, was the following statement:
This headquarters has conducted a thorough search for the records you described and the search revealed that there were no records responsive to your request.
No records? Incredible!
Also noteworthy — and a bit confusing — was the fact that the request has been forwarded to the Pentagon for review as explained below:
Your request was referred to the Office of the Judge Advocate General, for a required legal review and release determination. In accordance with regulatory policy, your request, along with the No Record certifications, has been forwarded to the Initial Denial Authority listed below for a final review and release determination. You will be provided a direct response from that agency once the review has been completed.
It remains to be seen whether the Pentagon will provide more info.
While I realize Army officials cannot allow junior officers to get away with willfully disobeying lawful orders, I also realize someone in Lieutenant Behenna’s chain of command dropped the ball when he ordered the then-24-year-old officer to escort Mansur back to his hometown.
Because the Iraqi policeman was a prime suspect in an improvised explosive device attack two weeks earlier that had killed two members of Behenna’s platoon. But that’s not all!
When Mansur was in custody and being questioned about his terror activities, four different Army intelligence officers reportedly failed to ask the Iraqi about the IED attack, about a threatening phone call he allegedly made to Behenna, about another attempted attack months earlier, and about several trips he had made to Syria.
Knowing these details, it’s extremely difficult to fault Behenna for wanting to find out the truth about what happened to his men. At the same time, however, it’s difficult watching as Army leaders “circle the wagons” to protect the person who issued the order to Behenna.
More to come.
Bob McCarty is the author of “Three Days In August: A U.S. Army Special Forces Soldier’s Fight For Military Justice,” a nonfiction book that’s available in paperback and ebook via most online booksellers, including Amazon.com. His second book, “The CLAPPER MEMO,” is set for release this fall.