May 23, 2006
The Congressional Testimony of Conscientious Objector Kevin Benderman, and 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.
May 16th Monica Benderman was invited to participate in a
Congressional Briefing hosted by Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, at the
Longworth Office Building, Washington DC. This briefing was to
call attention to Conscientious Objection and Military Recruitment
practices. Monica's husband, Kevin, is currently serving a prison
sentence for refusing to return to Iraq. He was recently denied
parole because he has not been sufficiently 'rehabilitated.' Below
is a transcript of her testimony.
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.
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.
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:
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
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.
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?
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.
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?
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
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.
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?
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
For More Information see:
The Kevin Benderman Defense Committee, http://www.topia.net/kevinbenderman.html
"Will a Voice of Conscience Be Heard? By Kevin Zeese, http://democracyrising.us/content/view/214/151/
"One Soldiers Fight to Legalize Morality" by Monica Benderman, http://democracyrising.us/content/view/274/106/