Earlier this month, I received an e-mail update from Scott and Vicki Behenna, whose son, Army Ranger 1st Lt. Michael Behenna, is serving 15 years in Fort Leavenworth military prison over the May 2008 shooting of a known killer in Iraq -- a terrorist for whom the Army would actually issue a kill/capture order before realizing he was already dead.
By the way, that last detail ranks as a minor outrage compared to the other outrages in this military disgrace of a case.
As for most Americans, December has been a busy month for the Behenna family. But while most families have been busy with Christmas plans, the Behennas have been seeking justice for their 27-year-old son. On Dec. 2, they and Michael's girlfriend (friends since second grade) went before the Army Clemency Board to ask the Board to suspend the rest of Michael's sentence, or at least significantly reduce it given that it's at least 50 percent longer than other combat-related unpremeditated-murder sentences. On Dec. 9, the Behennas wrote, they would be attending the long-awaited appeal of Michael's conviction in military appeals court in Arlington, Va.
"At this point," the e-mail continued, "it would take a miracle to prevent Michael from spending another Christmas in prison. But we count it among our many blessings that we will be able to spend Christmas with our son in the visitation room. We have much to be grateful for as we head into 2011. The support you have given to Michael and to our family has truly been a gift from God. Michael's story has continued to grow exponentially as has all the stories of the Leavenworth Ten. Please keep the letters coming for all these brave American soldiers."
Ah, the Leavenworth Ten. Readers of this column should be very familiar with these soldiers. Their continued incarcerations remain a moral blight on the U.S. military, which has frequently and recklessly extended clemency to thousands of Iraqi, Iranian, Afghan and other killers from Gitmo to Camp Bucca to Bagram Prison, even as it continues to imprison these men who went to fight them. One of them, PFC Corey Claggett, suffering from severe PTSD, has been in solitary confinement for over four years. (The superior who gave the unlawful order Claggett followed, however, is free on parole.)
How could this be?
I attended Lt. Behenna's appeals hearing, and, listening to the military prosecutor argue to uphold the guilty verdict, it struck me that what drives these prosecutions is less the pursuit of truth through shadow and fire than a free-standing, postmodern kind of righteousness that metastasizes independently from the wartime conditions in which all of these dark and difficult incidents take place.