On July 28, 2005, in a small non-descript courtroom on Ft. Stewart, Georgia, a Courts Martial is scheduled to begin. Again. One Army NCO who decided that he had no choice but to make a conscious choice NOT to return to war is being put on trial for caring about humanity.
This soldier fulfilled his commitment, he kept his promise to his enlisted contract, and when ordered to deploy to Iraq at the start of the invasion, he went, not because he wanted to “kill Iraqis” or “destroy terrorist cells,” but because he wanted the soldiers he served with to come home safely. He returned knowing that war is wrong, the most dehumanizing creation of humanity that exists. He saw war destroy civilians, innocent men, women and children. He saw war destroy homes, relationships and a country. He saw this not only in the country that was invaded, but he saw this happening to the invading country as well -- and he knew that the only way to save those soldiers was for people to no longer participate in war. Sgt. Kevin Benderman is a Conscientious Objector to war, and the Army is mad.
Sgt. Kevin Benderman, after serving one tour of duty in Iraq, filed for Conscientious Objector status, his Constitutional right. His commander refused to accept his application and one called him a coward. One chaplain was ashamed of his lack of moral fortitude, another, of higher rank, testified to the true sincerity of Sgt. Benderman’s beliefs, in writing. A military intelligence officer decided that he knew matters of the soul better than a man of God, and recommended to deny the CO claim. Five commissioned officers who had never met Sgt. Benderman agreed with the “intelligent officer” and the claim was denied, twice.
More than two weeks after my husband was placed in the Rear Detachment unit here at Ft. Stewart, charges of Missing Movement and Desertion were filed against him, even though he has never missed a single day of duty in almost ten years. At the first Courts Martial proceedings, the investigative hearing was overturned. According to the judge’s decision, the presiding officer had shown implied bias toward Sgt. Benderman, and a new hearing was ordered. As the session adjourned, the same command that brought the first charges were marching up the aisle in the courtroom to file a new charge, Larceny, against Sgt. Benderman. The command that brought the charge, had erroneously ordered combat pay to be paid to Sgt. Benderman, along with seven other soldiers in their unit. Rather than accept their responsibility for the error, these leaders chose to punish Sgt. Benderman for the mistake, and have yet to discipline any of the remaining soldiers for the officers’ gaffe.
The new investigating officer strongly recommended dismissing this larceny charge, but the convening authority, Ft. Stewart’s garrison commander, pressed on and filed the charges anyway, along with desertion and missing movement. The Courts Martial is scheduled to begin on July 28. The games began in January.
At the conclusion of the first hearing, I returned to the courtroom briefly for some things I had forgotten. The lights were dimmed, and no one was there. This small dark room, vintage WWII, had a reverent calm. Desks and chairs sat waiting, slightly turned, empty jurist panel, attorney’s podium -- the stage had been set. I look back on it now, and the feeling is strangely surreal.
Last week we learned that the United States Supreme Court allows itself to keep the Ten Commandments hanging on the walls of its chambers, as a testimony to another form of law. The guardian of the Constitution of our country, presiding over the human rights of our people, maintains that the Ten Commandments, religious context aside, represent a form of law that is powerful enough to occupy a place in its chambers.
In a small, quiet courtroom, on the Ft. Stewart military installation, the stage is set. One soldier who, after firsthand experience with the destructive force of war, decided to take the Ten Commandments at their word -- “Thou Shall Not Kill” -- and use the rights given to him to declare his conscious objection to war, to no longer be in a position to voluntarily have to kill another human being, is now on trial for not wanting to kill.
The Army has removed itself so completely from its moral responsibility, that its representatives are willing to openly demand, in a court of law, that they be allowed to regain “positive control over this soldier” by finding him guilty of crimes he did not commit, and put him in jail -- a prisoner of conscience, for daring to obey a moral law.
It is “hard work” to face the truth, and it is scary when people who are not afraid to face it begin to speak out. Someone once said that my husband’s case is a question of morality over legality. I pray that this country has not gone so far over the edge that the two are so distinctly different that we can tell them apart.
A sixteen-year-old in New York was charged with involuntary manslaughter yesterday for stabbing another teen in the chest twice, over a computer game. There is no question of why. He broke a law –-- a legal, MORAL law -- “Thou Shall Not Kill.”
After seeing war firsthand, Sgt. Kevin Benderman chose to follow a legal, MORAL law -- “Thou Shall Not Kill.” A form of law significant enough to be represented on the walls of our Supreme Court. The US Army cannot let him go. I have to ask -- “WHY?”
Monica Benderman is the wife of Sgt. Kevin Benderman, and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Sgt. Kevin Benderman is stationed at Ft. Stewart, Georgia. He has served on combat tour in Iraq. After seeing war firsthand, he made the decision to file for Conscientious Objector status in December 2004. His command refused the request, and filed charges of Missing Movement and Desertion against him. They have since added a charge of Larceny. Sgt. Benderman is scheduled to face a second attempt at Courts Martial for these charges on July 28, and Ft. Stewart. Please visit: www.BendermanDefense.org.
Other Articles by Kevin and Monica Benderman
An Open Letter to My Husband’s Chain of Command: The Players of the Game