President Donald Trump granted a full pardon to a former U.S. soldier convicted of killing an Iraqi prisoner in 2009, the White House announced Monday.
Army First Lieutenant Michael Behenna of Oklahoma was convicted to 25 years in prison in 2009 for unpremeditated murder in a combat zone, where he claimed self-defense in the killing of a man he believed to be an al-Qaeda terrorist in Iraq. His sentence was reduced to 15 years and he was released on parole as soon as he was eligible in 2014.
The New York Times reports that in 2008, Behenna and his platoon took prisoner Ali Mansur to a remote part of the Iraqi desert for interrogation, when Behenna fatally shot Mansur in the head and chest. According to a military court filing, Behenna told Mansur that the interrogation was his “last chance to tell the information or you will die,” during which Mansur was bound and blindfolded, and his clothes were cut off with a knife.
The filing also noted that after killing Mansur, Behenna told other soldiers that “he would do it again, and he did not feel bad about it because he just lost two guys.”
A statement released by White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, refers to Behenna to as “a model prisoner” and “entirely deserving” of the presidential pardon. Citing support for Behenna’s claim of self-defense, the statement notes that his case “has attracted broad support form the military, Oklahoma elected officials, and the public.”
“This pardon is a presidential endorsement of a murder that violated the military’s own code of justice,” said Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, said in a statement to TIME.
“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. Trump, as Commander-in-Chief, and top military leaders should prevent war crimes, not endorse or excuse them,” Shamsi added.