Conscientious Objector Status for Army Sgt.
Kevin Benderman Denied:
Ft. Stewart, GA -- Yesterday [April 27] at Ft. Stewart Georgia, U.S. Army Sergeant Kevin Benderman was dealt a setback in his battle with the U.S. Army when his application for Conscientious Objector status was denied by his command.
Benderman applied for CO status after having already served one combat tour in Iraq during which his Captain ordered personnel in the unit to fire on Iraqi children throwing rocks. This was one of many incidents during his deployment that Benderman said convinced him that war is immoral and it is his duty to refuse to kill.
U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan has pronounced the war in Iraq illegal and recent polls show a significant decline in American and British public support for continuing what majorities in both countries now believe is a lost cause. Both administrations have been battered recently over revelations regarding non-existent WMD’s, Iraqi civilian casualties, torture allegations, missing funds, American casualty counts and aggressive recruiting practices targeting disadvantaged youths.
There has also been a recent surge in complaints from both active duty and Iraq war veterans, who are now going public with their stories. In addition, recent police actions targeting protesters at anti-war rallies, reminiscent of the Vietnam War demonstrations have outraged the public and threaten to unleash a wave of lawsuits against both local and federal law enforcement personnel.
Benderman is also being charged with Desertion and Missing a Movement under Articles 85 and 87 of the UCMJ. His courts-martial is scheduled for May 11 at Ft. Stewart, with a heavy worldwide media presence expected to cover the trial.
The trial in itself promises to be contentious and acrimonious, pitting a lone combat veteran NCO, his beliefs and his attorneys against the full weight of the U.S. Army. The outcome could set precedence for Conscientious Objectors and the military as a whole, in addition to bringing into the public domain possible instances of illegal activities by Benderman’s former command staff, who under UCMJ law must be brought back from Iraq to testify against him, providing the opportunity for Benderman’s attorneys to interrogate them under oath.
Immediately following Benderman’s application for CO status he received a letter from his then-Battalion Chaplain, Captain Matt Temple who is now in Iraq, informing him that Temple was “…ashamed of the way you have conducted yourself. I certainly am ashamed of you. I hope you will see your misconduct as an opportunity to upgrade your character and moral behavior for your own good and the good of your fellowman.” Benderman said the letter disgusted him, stating “Nothing in my career as a professional soldier has prepared me to respond to something like that letter from Chaplain Temple.” He also noted that his then-First Sergeant Donald McClinton, also now in Iraq and due to be recalled for his upcoming courts-martial had called him a “coward.”
A subsequent interview however with Benderman’s newly assigned Chaplain; Major Pete Brzezinski yielded a different analysis. “It is my belief that Sgt. Benderman’s beliefs are sincere and that he holds strongly to his asserted convictions. His demeanor, lifestyle and his outward manifestation of his beliefs demonstrate his sincerity. Sgt. Benderman’s willingness to file for this status is an expression of his deeply held conviction and his moral belief that he is forbidden to bear arms and take life. Everything else is subordinate to this belief.
“It is my opinion that the applicant is sincere in his beliefs and that his lifestyle is congruent with his claim for conscientious objection,” Brzezinski said.
Monica Benderman’s views are succinct and to the point.
“When someone truly believes in what they stand for, what they speak out for, they have no problem expressing those beliefs and feelings. Kevin has spoken quite eloquently about his beliefs and feelings regarding war and it’s opposite, non-violent solutions to our problems.
“I find it intriguing that he has so easily put voice to his beliefs, and yet those who have denied his constitutional right to stand for his beliefs really do have no justification for that denial. Their response to Kevin's request to be allowed to follow his conscience was to have no response. They could not give a reason for their refusal of his request, they simply refused.
Kevin has no doubt about his conscious choice to refuse to participate in war any longer, and as a volunteer having honorably served to defend his country's constitution for almost 10 years, it should be his right, as an American citizen, to now say that he cannot serve for what he no longer believes in, and to be allowed to live by his conscience, according to the rights given to him by that constitution,” she said.
Accompanied by his wife, Benderman is scheduled to speak over the weekend at several anti-war functions in the San Francisco Bay area sponsored by Not In Our Name.
Robert S. Finnegan is Managing Editor of Southeast Asia News, and is an internationally published investigative reporter and former Marine Corps Non-Commissioned Officer. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright release granted for further publication at additional news outlets.
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