Trump pardons U.S. soldier convicted of murder in Iraq

President Donald Trump has pardoned a former U.S. soldier convicted in 2009 of killing an Iraqi prisoner, the White House announced late Monday.

Michael Behenna stripped, questioned and shot suspected al-Qaeda soldier

First Lt. Michael C. Behenna, left, and his defence lawyer, Capt. Tom Clark, right, are shown at a large U.S. base near Tikrit, north of Baghdad, on Sept. 21, 2008. The White House announced Monday that President Donald Trump pardoned Behenna. (Vanessa Gera/Associated Press)

President Donald Trump has pardoned a former U.S. soldier convicted in 2009 of killing an Iraqi prisoner, the White House announced late Monday.

Trump signed an executive grant of clemency, a full pardon, for former army 1st Lt. Michael Behenna of Oklahoma, press secretary Sarah Sanders said.

Behenna was convicted of unpremeditated murder in a combat zone after killing a suspected al-Qaeda terrorist in Iraq in 2008. He was paroled in 2014 and had been scheduled to remain on parole until 2024.

A military court had sentenced Behenna to 25 years in prison. However, the army's highest appellate court noted concern about how the trial court had handled Behenna's claim of self-defence, Sanders said. The Army Clemency and Parole Board also reduced his sentence to 15 years and paroled him as soon as he was eligible.

Behenna's case attracted broad support from the military, Oklahoma elected officials and the public, Sanders said. She said Behenna was a model prisoner, and "in light of these facts, Mr. Behenna is entirely deserving" of the pardon.

Oklahoma's two Republican senators, James Lankford and Jim Inhofe, hailed the pardon, thanking Trump for giving Behenna "a clean slate."

Behenna acknowledged during his trial that instead of taking the prisoner home as he was ordered, he took the man to a railroad culvert, stripped him, and then questioned him at gunpoint about a roadside bombing that had killed two members of Behenna's platoon.

Trump concerned over soldiers facing charges

Behenna, a native of the Oklahoma City suburb of Edmond, said the man moved toward him and he shot him because Behenna thought he would try to take his gun.

Oklahoma's attorney general first requested a pardon for Behenna in February 2018 and renewed his request last month. Attorney General Mike Hunter said he believed Behenna's conviction was unjustified because of erroneous jury instructions and the failure of prosecutors to turn over evidence supporting a self-defence claim.

Trump's pardon comes just weeks before another high-profile murder trial involving a member of the U.S. military is scheduled to begin.

Navy Seal Edward Gallagher is charged with premeditated murder and other charges, accused of stabbing to death a suspected ISIS militant in 2018. Several Navy Seals have been granted immunity to testify for the prosecution in the trial.

Trump never commented on Behenna on his Twitter feed, but has commented publicly in the cases of Gallagher and Green Beret Maj. Matthew Golsteyn.

Golsteyn was charged in December with murder in the death of a Taliban bomb maker in Afghanistan in 2010.

Soon after the charges were announced, Trump tweeted, "At the request of many, I will be reviewing the case of a U.S. Military hero, Major Matt Golsteyn, who is charged with murder. He could face the death penalty from our own government after he admitted to killing a Terrorist bomb maker while overseas."

In March, Trump said, "In honour of his past service to our country, Navy Seal Eddie Gallagher will soon be moved to less restrictive confinement while he awaits his day in court," he said.

While the Golsteyn case is still in its preliminary stages, the Gallagher trial is set to start May 28 in San Diego.

With files from CBC News