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Court-martial of Kevin Benderman:
Making an example of a GI resister

By Eric Ruder | August 5, 2005 | Page 1

THE U.S. Army finally got its conviction of Iraq War resister Sgt. Kevin Benderman on July 28.

At a court-martial trial at Fort Stewart in Georgia, Benderman was found guilty of the charge of "missing movement" and was sentenced to 15 months confinement. But the military failed to convict Kevin on the more serious charge of desertion, which carried a potential five-year sentence.

In May, the military had to delay Kevin's court-martial after his attorneys showed that the first investigating officer in the case had been biased. In retaliation, the prosecution filed bogus larceny charges--because of the Army's own mistake in overpaying Kevin--but the judge dismissed that charge earlier in the week.

Nevertheless, Kevin received the stiffest sentence yet of any soldier who refused to deploy to Iraq. In addition to confinement, he received a dishonorable discharge and reduction in rank to private.

"In light of the crime he was accused of, the sentence was rather harsh," Kevin's wife Monica told Socialist Worker. "He didn't desert, and if Kevin had actually refused an order to deploy from a command sergeant major, they would have put him under guard until he got on the plane. But that didn't happen. That's inconsistent with their allegations."

The prosecution called on the judge to give the most draconian sentence possible--in order to send a message to other soldiers that they shouldn't refuse to deploy or file for conscientious objector status. But they didn't get the "perp walk" that they wanted the media to record.

"The first sergeant wanted the media to see Kevin in chains, but his immediate superior said no," said Monica. "He said, 'The man deserves respect, treat him with respect.'" Instead, Kevin walked unshackled out of the courtroom and into the custody of military police.

"I am not against soldiers," said Kevin during the sentencing phase of the hearing. "I don't care what anyone says. Though some might take my actions as being against soldiers, I want everyone to be home and safe and raising their families. I don't want anyone to be hurt in a combat zone."

More than a dozen of Kevin's supporters also attended the court-martial, including Iraq Veterans Against the War members Camilo Mejía and Aidan Delgado, Camilo's mother Maritza Castillo and several members of Veterans for Peace.

"Kevin went to Iraq and came back with a message of humanity," said Mejía, the first U.S. soldier to be punished for refusing to deploy to Iraq. "This makes him dangerous...He's the typical American, blond-haired, blue-eyed and raised in the South. I think that's why they tried him in a general court-martial, which is the worst type of court-martial. This can even impose the death penalty."

Mejía said he thought Kevin's defense could have done a better job of highlighting Kevin's experiences in Iraq and his moral opposition to war.

"Kevin speaks about destruction in Iraq, about how cruel we are to the people, and how he saw people drinking out of mud puddles," said Mejía. "But the attorney focused on whether Benderman had permission to stay and work on his conscientious objector application. You can't use a legal strategy to fight a political strategy. I don't feel like the trial did justice to the efforts of Kevin Benderman."

Despite the conviction, Kevin has won--by adding his voice to the antiwar movement and exposing the war crimes committed by the U.S. military in Iraq. He and the other GI resisters deserve the wholehearted support of the antiwar movement.

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