To the thousands of supporters of Michael Behenna,
Most of you are aware of the facts in the case involving 1Lt Michael Behenna as detailed at www.defendmichael.com. These facts in and of themselves are horrific and represent a total betrayal of a young man who truly fought for his country against a determined and ruthless enemy. But few of you know the gut wrenching details that transpired after Judge Dixon denied the motion for a mistrial.
It was a Friday, March 20, 2009, three weeks AFTER Michael was convicted of unpremeditated murder for the killing of Al Qaeda terrorist Ali Mansur. Before we left Michael’s apartment to drive to the courtroom for the mistrial hearing, Michael gave his mother Vicki his billfold and car keys in case the unimaginable happened. Michael seemed prepared for the worst since he had been disappointed many times during his trial. Yet the thought that the Judge would not declare a mistrial seemed a remote possibility to us that morning. Based upon Vicki’s experience with such matters as a federal prosecutor this should have been an open and shut case for granting a new trial. But at 2pm that afternoon our world came crashing down when the judge denied the motion for mistrial claiming that Dr. MacDonell’s testimony would NOT have changed the jury’s verdict. He then told us that the defendant had thirty minutes to say good bye to his family.
We were stunned and in disbelief inside that courtroom. Tears instantly fell from our eyes at the news. Michael’s girlfriend Shannon collapsed on the floor sobbing. Vicki and I reached for Michael, but he didn’t want to be touched by anyone. Shannon’s father was incensed at the prosecutors. Michael stood there stoically – his life changed forever. The family was ushered to a holding room where we had thirty minutes to say goodbye. Michael sat silently as one by one each of us hugged him and told him how much we loved him and that we would do everything possible to correct this injustice. Members of Michael’s platoon told him to stay strong. A Sergeant Major that Michael had worked with on post the previous three weeks knelt beside Michael and told him ‘You will always be a soldier.’ He then stood and saluted Michael. The last thing Michael said to us before an MP escorted him away was “Don’t let me be forgotten.” Then, just like that, he was gone.
We stood outside the courtroom and waited until a military van whisked Michael away to the county jail where he would await transfer to Leavenworth. The family then drove to Michael’s apartment where we spent the next several hours packing his belongings for shipment back to Oklahoma. Going through Michael’s things only deepened our sense of loss. As parents you want to protect your children from harm and we were utterly powerless to do so. We packed away Michael’s things in silence.
The next day Vicki, Shannon and I were able to visit Michael at the county jail where he was locked up with common criminals. Shannon has a vivid memory of seeing Michael in an orange jump suit leaning up against the wall waiting for his turn to visit. She says he looked like a little boy who was lost and unsure of what was happening to him. We knew what this young man was made of inside. There is no quit in him and whatever life threw at him he would survive it and come out stronger on the other end. But that knowledge did not ease the pain of seeing our son in such a place.
That would be the last time we would see or talk to Michael for over a month. Among the many actions the Army has taken against our son there is one that is truly unforgiveable. For his trip to Fort Leavenworth prison Michael was dressed in his officer’s uniform and then paraded visibly handcuffed through the Nashville airport, then the Milwaukee airport, and then the Kansas City airport; flying from one airport to another on a commercial jet with two MP’s on each side of him.
The only reason we knew he had been transferred to Leavenworth was because one of the flight attendants on Michael’s flight from Milwaukee to Kansas City noticed this young man in an Army uniform in handcuffs with the two MP’s sitting beside him. Near the end of the flight Michael asked for a pencil and paper and simply wrote the phrase ‘defendmichael.com’ and handed it back to the attendant. The flight attendant went to Michael’s website that very night and posted a comment telling us that Michael was on his flight.
It has already been twelve months since Michael went to prison. But in those twelve months Michael’s story just keeps gaining momentum. Because of you he has not been forgotten. 250,000 hits on his website with over 1,500 comments posted. Over 15,000 signatures on his online petition. Over 12,000 friends on the Free Michael Behenna Facebook page. Over 3,000 people wearing defendmichael wristbands. Hundreds and hundreds of letters sent to Congressmen, Senators, and Military Leaders. And then there are the countless people who have been so inspired by Michael’s story that they have taken action on their own. For example, a retired police officer in New York has somehow gotten postage stamps made that say defendmichael.com. Another supporter is distributing bumper stickers and others are passing out flyers in their communities. The founder of the Band of Mothers organization helped arrange meetings with members of Congress regarding Michael. And recently Michael couldn’t believe his ears when he heard Michael Savage of the Savage Nation radio show talking about his case as he was sitting in his prison cell. There is even the possibility of an HBO documentary on Michael’s story.
One year into his imprisonment Michael is living one day at a time. He is trying to make sense of what has happened while holding onto the hope that his freedom is not fourteen years away. I’m reminded of a line by the playwright Aeschylus which says ‘And even in our sleep, pain that cannot forget, falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God.’ If it is from pain that wisdom does spring forth, then Michael is becoming a very wise soul indeed.
Again, from the bottom of our hearts, THANK YOU for your continued support and prayers for a soldier we proudly call our son.
Scott and Vicki Behenna