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Update: Vigil Held to Support Kevin Benderman

By Katherine Tam,
The Olympian

Feb. 12, 2006, FORT LEWIS: About two dozen activists, including eight from Olympia, called Saturday for the release of a soldier imprisoned here for refusing to deploy to Iraq a second time.

The activists held a banner that read “Free Kevin Benderman from Fort Lewis Brig” over the Interstate 5 overpass at DuPont near the military installation while drivers honked from below.

“He served in the military very faithfully and went to Iraq,” said Wally Cuddeford, who was in the Navy for a year and a half. “The military, instead of honoring the service he has given to his country, is locking him up.”

Benderman was deployed to Iraq from March to September 2003. He filed for conscientious objector status in late 2004; his application was denied. Conscientious objectors are morally opposed to war.

Benderman was to leave for Iraq again in January 2005, but he refused. He was charged with desertion and intentionally missing movement for not boarding the plane for Iraq when his unit left. He was found guilty of the second, lesser charge and sentenced last summer to 15 months in prison. He is serving that sentence at Fort Lewis. (See below)

Many activists at Saturday’s vigil said they have never met Benderman, but they support his right to be a conscientious objector. The group included veterans and those who have never been in war all from Seattle, Olympia and Tacoma.

“I feel it’s a crime to imprison him for doing what his conscience dictates,” said Alice Zillah of Olympia.

“You don’t have to kill someone to be a hero,” added Phan Nguyen, also of Olympia. “A conscientious objector is a hero, and I support people who risk their careers to do what’s right.”

At least three people did not share those sentiments and came to the overpass to hold a counter-rally.

“It’s a disgrace,” Shelley Weber of Olympia said as she waved a large American flag. “I rally here every Saturday and, upon arrival, I see these people on the bridge. I decorated this bridge. I bought the yellow ribbons and flowers.”

“This is the weekend our troops come in for drill. Their protest demoralizes our troops,” added Terry Harder, whose 23- and 26-year-old sons are in the military. Harder is a member of Operation Support Our Troops. [Let’s see. People who want the troops to come home now alive, and with their body parts, are demoralizing them, but Harder, who wants his own kids to stay neck deep in the shit and fight Bush’s unwinable Imperial war for oil, is good for morale. So, if he really believes it, why doesn’t he take his worthless self straight to Iraq. He doesn’t even have to be in the armed forces. He can show his courage and patriotism by taking a plane, crossing the border, buying an AK, and fighting the bad guys. Unless he’s the cowardly type, who would rather sit safely at home while his own sons do the dying for him.]

Meanwhile, the two sides exchanged words.

“Do you know who Kevin Benderman is?” an activist said.

“I couldn’t care less,” Weber said, while another man added, “Kevin’s where he belongs.”

Benderman Convicted: Get Fifteen Months

by Rachel Ensign

Courage to Resist Rally in support of Benderman and other resisters, Oakland July 28, 1005

On July 28, 2005, a general court martial at Ft. Stewart, GA, sitting judge alone, found Sgt. Kevin Benderman guilty of "missing a movement" (i.e., failing to return for combat duty in Iraq) and sentenced him to fifteen months in prison, a Dishonorable Discharge, reduction to the lowest rank and loss of all pay and benefits. The judge acquitted Benderman on the charge of desertion. If convicted on both charges, Benderman could have received a ten year prison sentence.

Generally, those receiving sentences of more than one year are imprisoned at the military's main penitentiary at Ft. Leavenworth, KS. (The defendant's attorneys had waived his right to trial by a military jury, apparently preferring to take their chances with a military judge).

Kevin had served in the US Army for the past ten years, including a six month combat tour in Iraq in 2003. When he received orders to deploy to Iraq again in January 2005, he annouced that he would not obey. A week earlier, he had filed an application for discharge as a Conscientious Objector. This application was rejected by an Army hearing officer prior to his court martial in July.
As a demonstration of how the Army's treatment of war resisters varies from one command to another, war veteran, Dave Bartell, who also refused to deploy to Iraq for a second combat tour, was convicted by a court martial at Ft. Carson, CO on July 12, 2005, but received only a four month prison sentence plus a Dishonorable Discharge.


For more information go to http://www.bendermantimeline.com/