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Silencing Conscience

by Open-Publishing - Saturday 6 January 2007

Wars and conflicts Justice USA Monica Benderman

January 5, 2007

Silencing Conscience
Monica Benderman

In the Military Courts –Martial of Sgt. Kevin Benderman, having filed a Conscientious Objector application after ten years of honorable service in the Army including a combat tour in Iraq:

“COMES NOW THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, by and through its counsel, and files this Motion in Limine.

The Government moves this Court to grant the following relief:

(ii) Preclude the Defense from raising irrelevant issues to the Trier of fact, to Wit: the accused’s status as a conscientious objector; the dictates of his conscience, religion, or personal philosophy; his patterns of belief concerning Operation Enduring/Iraqi Freedom and war generally; and his world views, and to exclude any documentary or testimonial evidence of any sort during the case on the merits concerning the accused’s personal beliefs. Furthermore to also Preclude the Defense from raising irrelevant issues concerning his alleged reasons for seeking conscientious objector status, to Wit; experiences during the accused’s prior deployment to Iraq including allegations the accused has made stating he was ordered to fire on Iraqi children; that he was not allowed to render medical attention or food to Iraqi civilians; that he was ordered to perform hazardous duty he was untrained to do, and any other allegation of misconduct by his fellow soldiers.

(E) The accused in the instant case cannot claim a defense of necessity because no natural physical force put pressure on the accused. His feelings of conscientious objection, aversion to war, and the motives for going to war – even if true – do not provide a defense to the charge of desertion under necessity. To recognize such a claim in this case would open a Pandora’s Box and extend to all soldiers a possible defense never anticipated by the Code.”

What is wrong with a country where a soldier’s “dictates of conscience, religion or personal philosophy,” personal experiences in combat, and faulty orders from command are irrelevant issues in the defense of that soldier’s moral decision to follow his conscience?

In December 2004, having experienced every destructive aspect of war firsthand, including the misrepresentations necessary to encourage a nation of conscience to support the war, my husband, Sgt. Kevin Benderman, attempted to file a Conscientious Objector application with his unit command. He was a ten-year veteran of the Army, with commendations, superior recommendations and evaluations from all levels of command.

He had been to Iraq. He witnessed the immoral acts of war, the unethical orders of superior officers, and the lack of support for the real needs of the soldiers he served with. He had enlisted to fulfill what he saw to be his responsibility, to give to his country in defense of its laws and the principles of its constitution – the foundation for the freedoms all Americans enjoy. His time at war gave him the firsthand experiences he needed to realize that his commitment and sacrifice were being disrespected even at the highest levels of command, and he would not compromise his principles to serve a cause he knew to be immoral, unethical and without merit.

As the law and Army regulations allow, and in keeping with his sworn duty to defend our laws and every American citizen’s right to be protected by those laws, he attempted to file a conscientious objector application requesting to be released from further military service. His command violated not only Army regulations, but the law of our land by refusing to accept his written request, throwing it back at him and ordering him out of the office.

After public pressure, and a strong letter of support by our Congressional representative, he was released from a meeting with the Command Sergeant Major of his battalion, which had been arranged by the Commander of his battalion, and ordered to complete all relevant paperwork necessary to file his CO claim. Without missing a day of duty, his command assigned him to the Rear Detachment unit of his battalion, his CO process was initiated, and he was given responsibilities commensurate with his rank.

He was never given an order to deploy, even as his forward commander gave a sworn statement that he left word with the Rear Detachment unit to see that Kevin was sent to Iraq on a plane scheduled to fly just one day after he was re-assigned to the Rear Detachment by that same command. An Army major, Battalion chaplain met with Kevin and found him to be completely sincere in his beliefs, and his request for Conscientious Objector status:

“SGT Benderman is sincere in his moral and ethical beliefs… His beliefs are deeply held to the point where he has no choice but to act in accord with them. 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 ethical belief.”

Two weeks later, Sgt. Benderman was charged with Desertion and Missing Movement – violations of regulations he did not commit. One asks – was it incompetence, disorganization or a strong desire on the part of the command to intimidate my husband into closing his mouth and acting as a “good soldier” should? Only justice will show the truth. Justice takes time. It is time for the truth.

During the first of two courts- martial attempts to convict my husband of a trumped up charge for a crime he did not commit, the government, “by and through its counsel” went to great lengths to keep my husband from defending himself in court.

My husband did not speak out against the Iraq war in his Conscientious Objector application. Even as we spent time in several cities across America discussing Conscientious Objection, its meaning to us, and the reasons my husband would no longer participate in war, his reasons never pinpointed the immoral invasion of Iraq as a justification. He knew, based on his firsthand experiences of war, conversations he had with veterans of past wars, lessons of his father and his own introspective process, that he would no longer allow himself to participate in anything as destructive, immoral and inhumane as war. Sgt. Kevin Benderman stood on principle, and just as he enlisted in the military believing in the need to defend the foundation of our country, when he knew war no longer defined his values he requested legal release from the military, once again in defense of our constitution and the laws of humanity on which it was based.

Participation in war, and witnessing its destructive effects on all involved, should be enough motivation to speak out in defense of finding peaceful resolutions to the world’s differences in ideologies, cultures and traditions. We believed it was enough justification to afford my husband the right to be released from the military after having selflessly given ten years of voluntary service to this country. It should have been enough, and we should have been satisfied.

The government “by and through its counsel,” by filing a Motion in Limine to suppress my husband’s beliefs and evidence justifying his principled stand in a court of law, opened the door to new considerations which extended beyond the simple statement that all war is wrong.

Why would the government be afraid of a man’s conscience?

Why would the government feel it necessary to suppress one soldier’s beliefs and recounting of his personal experiences in a public record?

What was the “Pandora’s Box” the government was so afraid to raise the cover off of?

If we were not meant to question the actions of this war, then wouldn’t justice in a court of law prove that to the government’s benefit?

What was it they wanted to hide?

In its “Motion in Limine” the government lists as FACT, that “After redeployment (from his tour in Iraq), the accused re-enlisted in the Army and transferred to the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart.” In FACT, my husband re-enlisted several months prior to the invasion of Iraq, before his unit had ever deployed.

The government went on to state that “the Accused has been a featured speaker at many anti-war rallies during which he has spoken out against United States foreign policy; railed against the war in Iraq and perceived illegalities committed by the federal government.” Interestingly, every public discussion my husband participated in called for an end to all war and a move toward positive dialogue in an effort to resolve our differences without the inhumanity that war brings, and he refused to discuss the policies of this current war.

What did Kevin say that caused the government’s counsel to manipulate facts in a legal document presented in a court of law as a request that the court grant the government relief from facing my husband’s testimony of real fact in defense of their manipulated allegations against him?

Also included as Fact by the government counsel, “The accused has made numerous statements to the press…including on his website, stating the reasons for his actions. These include accusations that when he was in Iraq he was ordered to shoot children and forbidden from rendering medical assistance to Iraq civilians.”

If the government knew my husband’s “accusations” to be unjustified, why did they work so hard to silence him?

In December 2004, Sgt. Kevin Benderman made a private petition to his command to be released from military service according to the regulations. He did not seek public attention, he did not want anything more than to be given his right to choose how to live his life, as the laws he served to defend allowed.

Even before his case became public, the Army commanders were working feverishly to silence my husband’s conscience.

In the end, truth cannot be silenced.

Isn’t it time we knew the truth?

Monica is the wife of Sgt. Kevin Benderman, a ten year Army veteran who served a combat tour in Iraq, and returned to file a Conscientious Objector request based on his firsthand experiences. To learn more, please visit www.BendermanDefense.org.

Monica and Kevin may be reached at mdawnb@coastalnow.net