EDITOR’S NOTE: I’ve been following the case of Army Ranger 1st Lt. Michael Behenna since 2009. In addition, I wrote a book, Three Days In August, about Army Sgt. 1st Class Kelly A. Stewart, another wrongfully-convicted man he befriended while both served time behind the walls of the U.S. Military Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. Today, I share an email update (below) from Lieutenant Behenna’s parents, Scott and Vicki Behenna:
Clockwise from upper left: Michael’s family; Michael as a Soldier; Michael as a youngster; and Michael and his girlfriend, Shannon.
To all the thousands of Michael supporters,
Michael’s case, including the Petition, the Government Response, and the Reply to the Government Response, is now complete and before the Supreme Court. The Supremes have set Michael’s case to be initially discussed at their conference on May 30th which is ironically during the 50th Anniversary of Brady vs Maryland (the Supreme Court case demanding that prosecutors disclose all beneficial information to the criminally accused). During the conference, four out of the nine Supreme Court Justices must vote to hear the case in order to grant certiorari. If certiorari is granted in Michael’s case it would be the first time the Supremes would have granted a service member’s appeal from the Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (CAAF). Needless to say, anxiousness will abound for the next few weeks and prayers are certainly welcome. We should have the Court’s decision sometime during the first week of June. If the Court grants certiorari, Michael’s case would proceed through a briefing process, oral arguments, and a decision by the Supreme Court hopefully before the end of the year.
We can’t thank you enough for all the encouraging cards and letters that you sent to Michael for his birthday. As Michael told us this past weekend it is these cards and letters that help him navigate the sometimes helpless and hopeless thoughts that have haunted him these past four years behind prison walls. He reads every card and letter sent to him, but given his prison schedule of work, exercise time, meals and early lights out he unfortunately does not have time to send out very many thank you notes. For this he sends his apologies and hopes a day will come soon when he can thank all of you in person.
If you did not see the Mother’s Day tribute to Vicki last Sunday in the Oklahoman, hopefully the attached video and article will describe the huge appreciation we have for all your support and what your individual words of encouragement have meant to Michael and our whole family.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Early this afternoon, I received an unsolicited message from a retired Air Force officer. With her permission, I share it (below) with only minor modifications, mostly related to formatting:
Lt. Gen. Craig A. Franklin, USAF
First, let me thank you for taking on the issues you do. I have read many articles regarding the “sexual assault/exploitation” of women in the military (AF lately), and shake my head in disbelief.
I was a Commissioned Officer (Ret O-5) for 23 years in the Air Force. While flirting certainly did go on, never once did I ever feel threatened [sic], in any way. I have known (military and civilian) women who were far from saintly and would do things out of vindictiveness to destroy a spurned lover’s career, including lying.
In the military, I spent time overseas, as well as living in field conditions during the Iraq War (I am a nurse) where there were about 100 women and 3000 men in our camp. I always felt our senior leaders were very protective of us. I am not implying that sexual assault does not go on. It does and it needs to be dealt with no different than the civilian system. I do not however, believe it is the rampant issue that the media would lead one to believe.
It seems that to be a male in the military implies instant guilt when a female makes an accusation of sexual-anything. I find this very disturbing. It is akin to the old “witch hunts.” The accused men deserve the same defense as those tried in a civilian court, and I’m not convinced that is happening.
U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.)
When I read the reports re: General Craig Franklin, I immediately knew that if General Franklin felt like the accused was innocent, he did what he needed to do, irregardless of what is politically correct (Sen. Claire McCaskill). My husband and I have been acquaintances with General Franklin professionally for many years. You will not meet a man with a deeper sense of loyalty and integrity than him.
It disgusts me that people such as Senator McCaskill are making an issue of a decision he was entitled to make and did so according to his knowledge and his integrity. I applaud him for do the “right” thing, not the current “politically correct” one.
Thank you for taking a stand on behalf of those who may otherwise have no support.
Charlotte J. Fulton
Read more about the kinds of cases to which she’s referring in my series, DoD’s War on Men.
FYI: In case you don’t think I have a heart, let me share a story. When I was a young second lieutenant on my first assignment in the Air Force, I had to handle a sexual assault case. A senior enlisted member of my staff had attempted to sexually assault a junior enlisted member of my staff inside her on-base quarters. After an investigation, he was able to avoid court-martial proceedings by accepting a demotion, a sizable reduction in retirement pay and an immediate and sizable financial penalty. The accuser was satisfied with the outcome, and justice was served.
U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) continued playing her legislative role in support of DoD’s War on Men, the no-holds-barred effort seemingly aimed at convicting any serviceman accused of sexual assault in the military and making an already-flawed military justice system worse.
U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.)
During the lunch hour today in the nation’s capitol, according to this media advisory, she was scheduled to be flanked by “more than 100 survivors of sexual assault pushing for changes in the military justice system” as she delivered the keynote address during the Service Women’s Action Network’s Summit on Military Sexual Violence at the Hyatt Regency Washington.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I don’t believe some of the so-called “survivors” suffered some sort of sexual assault; instead, I tend to place more trust in what I learn by reading actual investigation reports, Records of Trial and transcripts from hearings held before and after courts-martial took place. Why? Because I don’t trust politicians who use people as props, and I don’t trust lawyers. Senator McCaskill matches both descriptions!
Stewart, whose life story is chronicled in my first nonfiction book, Three Days In August, faces living the rest of his life as a convicted sex offender — unless a presidential pardon comes his way — because the convening authority in his case, Brig. Gen. Steven L. Salazar, opted against ordering a new trial or overturning his conviction. His decision came despite the testimony of three individuals — people who did not know Stewart but knew his accuser — during a post-trial hearing. They said the accuser had lied multiple times during Stewart’s trial!
Since publishing the book in October 2011, I’ve been contacted by dozens of people connected by birth, marriage or friendship to men serving in the U.S. Armed Forces, men facing or already convicted of crimes under the banner of sexual assault.
The most recent case involves Air Force Lt. Col. James H. Wilkerson III, a fighter pilot who was on the fast track toward general officer status until Kimberly Hanks accused him of aggravated sexual assault. NBC News aired a version of the case (see video below) that included an interview arranged by the group, Protect Our Defenders.
A friend of Colonel Wilkerson contacted me recently and advised me to look at “Defense Exhibits Q,” a short video showing the room in which the alleged assault took place and the path leading to the upstairs quarters where the colonel and his wife, Beth, said they were sleeping.
“Pay attention that the overhead lights are the only lights in that room,” the friend wrote, including a photo of the room (above). “Then read her testimony. Completely exclude (Colonel Wilkerson) and look at what she said occurred, and it’s simply not possible.”
Included, but certainly not alone among the documents and videos, is one of special interest to me as the author of another soon-to-be-published nonfiction book, THE CLAPPER MEMO, because it relates to the polygraph.
While court records show Colonel Wilkerson volunteered to submit himself to a polygraph exam, he did so under the mistaken belief that it would help him clear his name. Like most Americans, he was unaware of how unreliable polygraph exams can be. Fortunately for the colonel, General Franklin is familiar with the polygraph and cited its “inherent unreliability” in his letter to Secretary Donley. And he’s not alone!
“Bob McCarty has uncovered a high-tech ‘turf war’ pitting those who want the best for our troops against others who seem to be focused on their own self-interests,” said Maj. Gen. Paul E. Vallely, a retired Army officer most Americans recognize asthe senior military analyst who appeared so many times onFox News Channel from 2000 to 2007. Referring to those of the polygraph-only mindset, the man who now headsStand Up America added, “Sadly, it seems the wrong people are winning this war. I highly recommend THE CLAPPER MEMO.”
Capt. Larry Bailey, U.S. Navy SEAL Ret.
“Any American with a sense of fair play and a desire to see that our intelligence and vetting personnel have the best information possible should read THE CLAPPER MEMO,“ saidCapt. Larry W. Bailey, a retired U.S. Navy SEAL who once served as commander of the Basic Underwater Demolition/SEALs (a.k.a., “BUD/S”) training program and now serves as a founding member ofSpecial Operations Speaks. Later, he described what I reveal in the book as“an unconscionable cover-up.”
This is not the first and will not be the last article in my series, DoD’s War on Men, so stay tuned!
EDITOR’S NOTE: In case you don’t think I have a heart, let me share a story. When I was a young second lieutenant on my first assignment in the Air Force, I had to handle a sexual assault case. A senior enlisted member of my staff had attempted to sexually assault a junior enlisted member of my staff inside her on-base quarters. After an investigation, he was able to avoid court-martial proceedings by accepting a demotion, a sizable reduction in retirement pay and an immediate and sizable financial penalty. The accuser was satisfied with the outcome, and justice was served.
Click to read other articles in series, DoD’s War on Men.
On Wednesday, the liberal senior senator from the Show-Me State used a news release to share her feelings about a letter in which Air Force Lt. Gen. Craig A. Franklin explained to Secretary of the Air Force Michael B. Donley his decision to overturn the guilty verdict issued by members of a court-martial panel in a sexual assault case at Aviano Air Base, Italy. Interestingly, the liberal senator did not include a copy of the letter in her release. Why? Because it doesn’t support the position she’s espoused during the past five weeks as a combatant in DoD’s War on Men.
Lt. Col. James H. Wilkerson III
Before I delve into the content of the March 12 letter written by General Franklin, commander of Third Air Force and the convening authority in the case of Lt. Col. James H. Wilkerson III, a review of the battles in this war is in order.
In a post March 7, I shared the full text of the scathing letter in which Senator McCaskill strongly urged Secretary Donley and Gen. Mark A. Welsh III, Chief of Staff of the Air Force to consider removing General Franklin for cause.
A few days later, Senator McCaskill announced she was proposing legislation to curtail the authority of military commanders to override court-martial convictions involving sexual assault charges and publicized the fact that she had met with Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh“to discuss her ongoing efforts to address sexual assaults in the military.” In addition, however, she used another news release to smear the now-innocent Colonel Wilkerson.
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.)
“Rape is the crime of a coward—and rapists in the ranks are masquerading as real members of our military,” she explained, adding,“The focus of our efforts should be on effective prosecution. There’s no reason a General who’s never heard the testimony of factual witnesses should be able to wipe out a verdict with the stroke of a pen.”
Those words prompted me to demand Senator McCaskill apologize to Colonel Wilkerson for inferring that he was a rapist. In addition to the fact that Colonel Wilkerson had been declared innocent, he had never been accused of rape in the first place!
On April 8, Senator McCaskill announced new Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel had bought into her plan to take away commanders’ authority when it comes to courts-martial cases like the one involving Colonel Wilkerson.
Now, back to the Wednesday news release in which Senator McCaskill referred to the letter written by General Franklin to Secretary Donley.
“This explanation crystalizes exactly why the convening authority should not have the unilateral ability to overturn a jury verdict-and why we need legislation that restricts their ability to do so,” the liberal member of the Senate Armed Services Committee wrote. “This letter is filled with selective reasoning and assumptions from someone with no legal training, and it’s appalling that the reasoning spelled out in the letter served as the basis to overturn a jury verdict in this case.”
Was Senator McCaskill right in her analysis of General Franklin’s six-page letter (pdf) to Secretary Donley? You be the judge! Click here or on the graphic below to read it.
UPDATE 4/12/2013 at 1:31 p.m. Central: When I published this piece yesterday, I failed to note how this subject matter has a connection to my soon-to-be-published book, THE CLAPPER MEMO, and makes me think General Franklin might want to read the book. In his letter to SAF Donley, the general noted the following:
“Lt Col Wilkerson voluntarily agreed to take an (Air Force Office of Special Investigations) polygraph examination. I am fully aware of and considered the polygraph results. As you are aware in a criminal investigation, a polygraph is only an investigative tool to assist in the potential focus of the investigation and/or to attempt to elicit admissions of guilt. It is not a “lie detector test,” nor is it “pass” or “fail.” Because of the inherent unreliability of polygraphs, they are entirely inadmissible in a court-martial. Ultimately, Lt Col Wilkerson has consistently maintained his complete innocence — throughout two lengthy OSI interviews, through the entire court-martial, and throughout his nearly four months in prison (following the court-martial and during the post-trial process).”
Thirty-seven retired high-ranking military officers, including a former Chief of Naval Operations, signed an Amicus Brief submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court Feb. 27 in support of Army Ranger 1st Lt. Michael Behenna. An Edmond, Okla., native, Lieutenant Behenna is serving 15-years behind bars at the U.S. Military Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., for killing a known Al-Qaeda operative in Iraq.
Click image to download document (pdf)
Early on, the 31-page brief raises an important question — that is, whether a servicemember in a combat zone categorically forfeits the right to self-defense as a matter of law by pointing a firearm without authorization at a suspected enemy. In the case of Lieutenant Behenna, he admitted during his court-martial that he shot Ali Mansur in self-defense. And therein lies the rub.
The brief’s conclusion section (below) makes a clear argument, stating that Lieutenant Behenna deserves some punishment, but not what he received, and, more importantly, a new trial:
Lieutenant Behenna’s unauthorized actions in a combat zone were a serious breach of military discipline and for that reason he should be subject to appropriate disciplinary action under the (Uniform Code of Military Justice). But in so acting without authorization, he did not forfeit his right to self-defense. This Court should grant the petition for certiorari, reverse the (Court of Appeals of the Armed Forces), and remand to allow a new court-martial panel to consider Lieutenant Behennas’s claim that he acted in self-defense, including evidence unlawfully withheld by the prosecution corroborating that claim.
At the same time as I’m pleased with this document, I remain disappointed that its authors made no mention of the colossal failure of leadership among officers in Lieutenant Behenna’s chain of command. That failure, a subject I tackled in a post Aug. 20, 2012, allowed him to be put in a position from which nothing good could result.
Imagine yourself in the shoes of a veteran Navy officer who, while old enough to retire, decides to stay on active duty because people in your vital career field are in short supply during time of war. Then something awful surfaces; a female sailor accuses you of doing something to her, but she cannot remember any details.
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An Article 32 investigation is conducted to determine whether formal charges should be drawn up, and the officer in charge of the investigation recommends against moving forward with charges and always-ugly court-martial proceedings. Why? Because, he reports, the accuser is simply not credible.
Just as you begin to breathe a sigh of relief, your world turns upside down. Rejecting the investigating officer’s recommendation, senior Navy officials opt to prosecute you, a trial takes place, and you are convicted of sexual assault-related charges by a panel comprised of military members overloaded with training on what constitutes sexual assault. Among the “lessons” they learned was this: “If a female has a single drink of alcohol she is unable to give consent, but if the male is drunk, it’s simply regrettable sex.”
Before you know it, you’re behind bars in a military prison and trying to come to grips with being branded a sex offender for the remainder of your life — if, that is, your appeals fail.
That’s what happened to the husband of a Navy wife who contacted me almost six months ago after reading the life story of Army Green Beret Sgt. 1st Class Kelly A. Stewart, chronicled in my book, Three Days In August.
NOTE: Because her husband’s case is still in the appeals process, she has asked me not to reveal names via which she and her husband might be identified. Why? Because her husband has already been made an example by Navy leaders, and she doesn’t want his case impacted further if she can prevent it.
Today, the Navy officer’s wife forwarded copies of several letters which combine to prove that Navy officials have merely acted as foot soldiers in theDepartment of Defense War on Men.
In the first letter, written to R.R. Lamoureux, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Manpower and Reserve Affairs, via J.A. Riehl, director of the Secretary of the Navy Council of Review Boards, members of the Navy Clemency and Parole Board (NC&PB) wrote, among other things, that they voted unanimously to recommend parole. In keeping with military justice guidelines, their recommendation was based upon whether or not the convicted officer was likely to offend again.
Two weeks later, Riehl wrote a letter to accompany the one sent by the NC&PB to Lamoureux.
“I do not concur with the Naval Clemency & Parole Board’s recommendation for parole,” Riehl stated, before going on to say that the convicted officer’s “offenses involving the sexual assault of a fellow sailor represent a significant departure from the conduct expected of a naval officer particularly in light of departmental efforts to eliminate the rash of sailor-on-sailor assaults that have plagued the military and generated significant concern among members of Congress and the general public.”
Six weeks later, Robert T. Cali, Assistant Secretary of the Navy (M & RA), wrote a memo to the president of the Naval Clemency & Parole Board, stating that the officer’s request for clemency and parole had been disapproved.
Of course, there are many more details to this case which, one day, I will be at liberty to disclose. Meanwhile, shame on Navy leaders for allowing self-centered concerns of members of Congress to outweigh military justice for a man who devoted his life to serving his country. Stay tuned!
Though I’m not yet at liberty to disclose the name of a U.S. Army Soldier who appears to have become yet another victim of theDepartment of Defense War on Men, I feel compelled to share troubling details about his recent conviction on sexual assault charges that were shared with me by his father during a phone call today.
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In short, the father told me he had received signed letters from two members of the five-member court-martial panel — the military version of a jury — who had sat in judgment over his son during legal proceedings last year. In their letters, both panel members described how they had voted against convicting the man’s son. In addition, both described having been pressured to render a guilty convict by Army officials who wanted to make an example of the accused Soldier so as to discourage other Soldiers from committing sexual assaults in the future.
The father told me he will forward copies of those letters to me for dissemination to my readers if his son’s defense attorney thinks it a good idea during a time when they are moving forward with the appeals process. In other words, no guarantees. Stay tuned!