"We kill many people in the name of keeping the peace – an oxymoron if there ever was one. After many months of contemplation I reached the conclusion that I no longer wanted to contribute to the ultimate violence toward other human beings that war is." excerpt of statement by Kevin Benderman read at Congressional Briefing.
May 16, 2006 – Congressional Briefing for Conscientious Objection
Statement made by Monica Benderman:
Thank you for giving me this time today. I would like to preface my comments to Congressional representatives by reading a statement from my husband, Kevin Benderman, a US Army Sgt. who is currently serving a 15-month sentence at the Regional Corrections Facility, Ft. Lewis, Washington.
I have prepared this statement to address the injustice I have been dealt by the US Army after I made the decision to apply for Conscientious Objector status. I made this decision after my return from Iraq where I witnessed and experienced for myself the insanity of war. What I learned from my experience is that war is a waste of humanity. We kill many people in the name of keeping the peace – an oxymoron if there ever was one. After many months of contemplation I reached the conclusion that I no longer wanted to contribute to the ultimate violence toward other human beings that war is.
I attempted to discuss my feelings with a chaplain assigned to my military unit, but I got the sense that talking with him would be a less than worthwhile way to cope with these feelings. Ultimately, my initial impression of him proved correct when I received an email from him stating how ashamed of me he felt, and that I had displayed little moral fortitude in my decision.
The command structure of my unit was hostile towards me in their zealous need to have me prosecuted for having developed a desire to live a more peaceful, humane existence. I was ridiculed publicly, called a coward, subjected to a farce of a general court martial, and falsely imprisoned.
The company commander refused to follow military regulations in regard to my Conscientious Objector application and the battalion commander blatantly disregarded a request from a congressional representative to examine my application in an unbiased manner.
The General Court Martial Convening Authority blatantly abused his position of authority when he told the Ft. Stewart JAG office and the prosecuting attorneys how long my sentence would be prior to an investigation into charges they were considering against me. This action is a flagrant violation of my right to a fair and unbiased hearing accorded me by the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
The Rear Detachment commander also tried to dredge up any other groundless charges to press against me that he could. Two charges of Larceny were brought in to try to further tarnish my reputation, which eventually proved groundless, but not before they were used as a threat to encourage me to plead guilty to an act I did not commit.
It is my desire to prevent other soldiers from having to deal with corrupt and unethical individuals like these commanders. I would like to see legislation passed that would prevent any type of abuses from those serving in positions of authority within the military system. The people who voluntarily decide to wear this nation’s uniform already sacrifice far more than the average citizen. Their basic civil rights should not be sacrificed as well to the unethical whims of corrupt individuals who may hold a higher rank, but exhibit far less humanity. Any assistance in rectifying this situation would be greatly appreciated, and I would like to thank those who made it possible for me to present my remarks here today. I would also like to thank those of you who have taken time to hear what I have had to say.
Sincerely – Sgt. Kevin Benderman
I will address my comments to the Members of Congress:
Each one of you is in office having been elected on the basis of promises you made. In taking that office, each one of you took an oath to honor the Constitution of this country, and you did so by swearing to your God.
An American soldier, a volunteer, takes the same oath. His commitment to that oath is based on the promises of our elected leaders. But a true leader is not someone who blindly follows laws written by men. A true leader is someone who leads with adherence to his own obligation to humanity.
If you, during your tenure and contract to serve as Congressional leaders, were asked to participate in an action that violated your own conscience and your own principles of humanity, would you take a stand against that action?
If you were to step down, no longer willing to participate in an immoral, illegal action, would you have charges brought against you?
Would you be sent to jail for your beliefs? Would you go willingly?
Would you allow this to happen to any member who serves with you who also acted on their conscience?
As a volunteer, an American soldier has every right to question the purpose of his sacrifice, and to expect that sacrifice to be honored with integrity and honesty, and to be allowed to follow his conscience when orders given violate his own principles of humanity.
Freedom of Choice is one of the most significant principles on which our country was founded. Conscientious Objection is the true exercise of a soldier’s right to choose.
Do you understand what it takes to publicly declare yourself a Conscientious Objector today?
Are you aware of the process an American soldier must go through to be granted Conscientious Objector status in today’s volunteer army?
My husband, Sgt. Kevin Benderman, is a ten year veteran of the US Army, and has
served with distinction. He served a combat tour in Iraq and was awarded two commendation medals for his service there. While in Iraq, my husband’s firsthand experiences changed him.
My husband went to war. He saw mass graves filled with dead bodies of old people, women and children. He watched dogs feeding on their bodies. How would that affect you?
He saw a young girl badly burned because of the actions of war and rather than stop to help her, war dictated that he must drive on by. How would that tear at your heart?
As he helped set up camp, his commander gave his unit an order to shoot small children if they continued to return to the top of a retaining wall to watch what the soldiers were doing. At what point would you draw the line?
What he saw and experienced appalled him, and he was angry. My husband left Iraq cold and furious at what he had been asked to do for an unjust, undefined cause, and a dedicated soldier turned against war for moral and ethical reasons as his conscience would not allow him to violate his own principles of humanity.
When he returned home, my husband and I wrote publicly about our feelings for this and all war. We spoke of the horrors, the senseless inhumanity, and the disrespect shown to the sacrifice our soldiers had made.
My husband took the course available to him and filed a Conscientious Objector application as his legal show of refusal to participate further in an immoral, inhumane action.
His command, in an effort to punish him for his humanity, and because they could not do so for the public comments that he and I had made, chose to disregard his application, and in the confusion their incompetence created found a way to put him in prison for his actions.
Kevin was found guilty of missing movement, or not getting on a plane, and sentenced to 15 months in jail, loss of all pay, reduction in rank and dishonorable discharge. According to the lead prosecutor, the military spokesperson, and my husband’s commander – “a stiff sentence was called for to send a message to other soldiers that they could not use Conscientious Objection to get out of going to war.”
My husband violated no regulations. His command violated many. The command’s flagrant disregard for military regulations and laws of humanity sent my husband to jail as a prisoner of conscience.
Times have changed – and so has Conscientious Objection. What has not changed is the constitution, the oath our volunteer soldiers take to defend it, and every American citizen’s right to Freedom of Choice.
This Conscientious Objection goes beyond religious teaching. It is not dramatic. There is no epiphany. There is reality. Death is final, whether it is your own, or you cause the death of another. No amount of field training can make up for the sights, sounds, tastes and smells of a real battlefield, and no amount of threats, intimidation and abuse from a command can change a soldier’s mind when the cold hard truth of an immoral, unethical justification for war is coupled with real life sensations.
Who among us has the authority to sit in judgment of another man’s conscious decision to no longer participate in killing when he has been on the frontlines of death and destruction?
Simply by being born we each have an obligation to respect the authority of life; as individual human beings with an allegiance to what is RIGHT, not an allegiance to a flag, a country, or another human being elected to a temporary position of leadership they may not have earned.
When a soldier realizes that his conscience no longer supports the oath he gave to serve in the military, it is because he has learned that what he was asked to do as a soldier violates his obligation to himself and his humanity.
My husband was scheduled for a parole hearing in February 2006. The parole board denied my husband’s request for parole. The reason cited – my husband had not been “sufficiently rehabilitated.” My husband is a Conscientious Objector. What is the rehabilitation needed for someone who says he no longer will participate in war?
The right to choose life over the taking of life is every man’s right. Regardless if that man has volunteered to defend his country in time of war, he did not volunteer to participate in wanton, irreverent killing at the whim of a government whose leadership is quick to “pull the trigger” without giving thought to the authority of the sanctity of life.
A true American leader will stand up to laws and orders given that violate the sanctity of life and call the principles of our Constitution into question. A true American leader will let his conscience be his guide when asked to participate in actions that violate his own high standards of morality. When this leader is a soldier who has made a choice to stand against the inhumanity he has seen firsthand in a combat zone, it is up to those in Congress to see that laws are in place which give his right to conscience the respect it deserves.
I am here on behalf of my husband, Sgt. Kevin Benderman; American soldier, Prisoner of Conscience, someone I am very proud of.
My husband and others like him are in prison because our country’s leaders have refused to acknowledge their responsibility to act as human beings first. My husband, a volunteer soldier, after a combat tour in Iraq, chose to put his humanity first. It is beyond my comprehension why, in this great country, my husband is in jail for simply exercising his human rights.
It is time for each of you to remember your obligation to humanity and act in a manner that is truly worthy of my husband’s sacrifice. I am strongly encouraging each of you to reflect on your responsibility and your conscience, and in doing so, I am advocating that my husband, Sgt. Kevin Benderman, be given the respect he deserves as a Conscientious Objector and an American leader who has taken a stand to defend the principles this country was founded on.
Monica and Kevin may be reached at [email protected]
For more info on Kevin Benderman:
www.BendermanDefense.org OR www.BendermanTimeline.com