The Edmond Sun


May 21, 2013

Witnesses missing; Behenna case could be heard at Supreme Court

EDMOND — The film “Breaker Morant” was nominated for an Oscar for the best screenplay in 1980. It told the story of Harry “Breaker” Morant, an Australian who served in the British Army and was court-martialed for alleged war crimes during the Boer War in Southern Africa in the early years of the last century.

That conflict pitted the British Army against the descendants of the Dutch settlers who had migrated to what is now South Africa in the 17th and 18th centuries. The majority of them were farmers and in their language of Afrikaans were known as “Boers.”

As documented in that movie, the conflict took on many aspects of a guerilla war and the line between civilians and combatants in the Boer community was blurred as a result.

Morant and two of his fellow soldiers were tried before a military tribunal convened by the British Army for shooting several Boer soldiers who were not in military uniform, as well as a German missionary who had witnessed the shooting of the Boer combatants.

The commanding British officer is South African during the conflict — Lord Kitchener — had issued an order that authorized the killing of enemy combatants who were not in uniform, and the officer who defended Morant sought to subpoena as witnesses several British military officers who could testify that Morant had received a copy of that order and that his actions were in compliance with it.

But those witnesses were suddenly unavailable, and Morant and his two co-defendants were convicted of murder and ultimately were executed.

The film makes clear that Kitchener and the British authorities in Southern Africa wanted to negotiate an end to the war, and that the execution of Morant was part of an effort to encourage the Boer leaders to enter into peace talks.

Future historians may see parallels between the experiences of Breaker Morant and Michael Behenna, an Edmond native and U.S. military officer who was convicted of murdering an Iraqi civilian in 2008 in a court-martial convened by the U.S. Army.     

His court-martial took place at a time in which the U.S. military was negotiating a “status of forces” agreement with the Iraqi government that recently had been installed, and his conviction may have served as a way to assist the U.S. government in obtaining that agreement.  

A Pentagon official has indicated privately to Behenna’s attorneys that he probably would not have been charged if those negotiations had not been ongoing at that time.

Behenna also was operating in a theater of war in which the distinction between enemy combatants and the civilian population was not always clear. Behenna testified that he shot the Iraqi in question, whom the U.S. Army has confirmed was an Al Queda operative, after the Iraqi threw a piece of concrete at him and tried to take his weapon.

Behenna’s mother, Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Oklahoma Vickie Behanna, reports that at his court-martial there was forensic expert Dr. Herbert MacDonell, who was prepared to testify that Michael Behenna’s account of how the shooting of the Iraqi occurred was the most plausible explanation of what happened.

But, the military prosecutors failed to call Dr. MacDonell as a witness, and the officers who decided that Behenna was guilty of murder did not have the benefit of his testimony. Behenna is currently serving a 15-year sentence in Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

His conviction was affirmed by the Court of Appeals for the U.S. Armed Forces by a vote of three judges with two judges dissenting. A request has been filed with the U.S. Supreme Court asking that it review that decision, and that tribunal will be considering that request later this month.

Vickie Behenna believes that regardless of the decision that the Supreme Court makes, her son is a patriot who served his country in an admirable manner.

WILLIAM F. O’BRIEN is a retired Oklahoma City attorney.


Text Only
  • 'Too big to fail' equals 'too eager to borrow'

    Four years ago this month, President Barack Obama signed the Dodd-Frank Act into law, promising that the 848-page financial law would “put a stop to taxpayer bailouts once and for all,” he said. But recently, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren told a Detroit crowd that “the biggest banks are even bigger than they were when they got too big to fail in 2008.”
    Who’s right?

    July 30, 2014

  • Sheltons travel for better life for family

    Some time around 1865 a mixed-race African American couple, William and Mary Shelton, made their way from Mississippi to east Texas. Nothing is known for certain of their origins in he Magnolia state, or the circumstances under which they began their new lives in Texas.

    July 29, 2014

  • Film critic Turan produces book

    Kenneth Turan, who is the film critic for National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition,” has written a book “Not to be Missed, Fifty-Four Favorites from a Life Time of Film.” His list of movies span the gamut from the beginnings of filmmaking through the present day.
    There are some surprising omissions on his list. While he includes two films, “A Touch of Evil” and Chimes at Midnight” made by Orson Welles, and one, “The Third Man,” that Welles starred in but did not direct. He did not however, include “Citizen Kane,” that was the first movie Welles made, that is  often cited by both film critics and historians as a favorite film.

    July 28, 2014

  • Logan County’s disputed zone

    Watchers of “Star Trek” may recall the episode from the original series entitled, “Day of the Dove.” In this episode, Captain Kirk and his crew are forced by a series of circumstances into a confrontation with the Klingons. The conflict eventually resolves after Kirk realizes that the circumstances have been intentionally designed by an alien force which feeds off negative emotions, especially fear and anger. Kirk and his crew communicate this fact to the Klingons and the conflict subsides. No longer feeding upon confrontation, the alien force is weakened and successfully driven away.

    July 28, 2014

  • Russell leads in Sun poll

    Polling results of an unscientific poll at show that Steve Russell, GOP candidate for the 5th District congressional seat, is in the lead with 57 percent of the vote ahead of the Aug. 26 runoff election. Thirty readers participated in the online poll.

    July 28, 2014

  • Healthier and Wealthier? Not in Oklahoma

    Increased copays, decreased coverage, diminished health care access, reduced provider budgets and increased frustration are all the outcomes of the Legislature’s 2014 health care funding decisions. Unlike some years in the past when a languishing state economy forced legislators into making cuts, the undesirable outcomes this year could easily have been avoided.

    July 26, 2014

  • Medicaid reform a necessity

    Historically, education spending by the state of Oklahoma has been the largest budget item. This is no longer the case. In recent years, the state of Oklahoma spends more on Medicaid (operated by the Oklahoma Health Care Authority) than common education and higher education combined, according to the state’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report.

    July 25, 2014

  • Remembering lessons from 1974

    This week marks the 40th anniversary of an important milestone in America’s constitutional history. On July 24, 1974, the Supreme Court voted 8-0 to order the Nixon White House to turn over audiotapes that would prove the president and his close aides were guilty of criminal violations. This ruling established with crystal clarity that the executive branch could not hide behind the shield of executive privilege to protect itself from the consequences of illegal behavior. It was a triumph for the continued vitality of our constitutional form of government.

    July 25, 2014

  • RedBlueAmerica: Is parenting being criminalized in America?

    Debra Harrell was arrested recently after the McDonald’s employee let her daughter spend the day playing in a nearby park while she worked her shift. The South Carolina woman says her daughter had a cell phone in case of danger, and critics say that children once were given the independence to spend a few unsupervised hours in a park.
    Is it a crime to parent “free-range” kids? Does Harrell deserve her problems? Joel Mathis and Ben Boychuk, the RedBlueAmerica columnists, debate the issue.

    July 24, 2014

  • Technology that will stimulate journalism’s future is now here

    To say technology has changed the newspaper media industry is understating the obvious. While much discussion focuses on how we read the news, technology is changing the way we report the news. The image of a reporter showing up to a scene with a pen and a pad is iconic but lost to the vestiges of time.
    I am asked frequently about the future of newspapers and, in particular, what does a successful future look like. For journalists, to be successful is to command multiple technologies and share news with readers in new and exciting ways.

    July 23, 2014


The runoff race for the 5th District congressional seat is set for Aug. 26. If the voting were today, which candidate would you support?

Al McAffrey
Tom Guild
     View Results