by Hon. Cynthia McKinney
Editor’s Note: On July 28, 2005, in a small nondescript courtroom at Ft. Stewart in Georgia, Sgt. Kevin Benderman was sentenced to 15 months for his refusal to deploy to Iraq. Benderman is just one of thousands of modern heroes who have followed their conscience and taken the difficult stand of resistance within the armed forces.
I speak with you today about one of America’s heroes, Sgt. Kevin Benderman. Sgt. Benderman is not a hero because he served a tour of duty in the Occupation of Iraq, though he did. He is not a hero because of the medals he was awarded, nor his ten years of honorable service in the U.S. Army. No, Sgt. Kevin Benderman is a hero because when all around him are pressing forward to prosecute a violent war against the people of Iraq, Kevin Benderman had the courage to stand up and assert his heartfelt opposition to war.
His Opposition is
Greater than Most
Sgt. Benderman’s opposition is not the theoretical if sincere opposition of a student peace activist. Kevin Benderman has seen things that none of God’s children should have to endure.
He was present when his superior ordered his unit to open fire on small children who were throwing rocks at the soldiers of his unit. He chased the hungry dogs from an open mass grave filled with the bodies of young children, old men and women. Kevin saw the burned child, crying in pain, while all around her ignored her injuries.
As he reflected on what he had experienced, he chose to not re-enlist, to not participate in a war and an institution that he could no longer square with his evolving yet sincerely held beliefs.
But stretched by an immoral war, based on lies, beyond the limits of the resources afforded them, our military adopted a “stop loss order” policy to arbitrarily breech the contracts our nation made with those who serve in its military services. So, Kevin did what was necessary. He applied for Conscientious Objector status. His officers up the chain of command refused their duty to accept his application. His commander called him a coward. His unit chaplain refused to meet with him, writing by email that he was “ashamed” of Kevin. He was charged with “Desertion with Intent to Avoid Hazardous Duty” and “Missing Movement by Design.”
Victim of a MilitaryKangaroo Court
His preliminary hearings methodically violated every precept of substantive due process. He now faces a Court Martial on May 11 and the possibility of seven years in the stockade.
Every member of our Armed Forces raises their hands, as do we, and take an oath, as do we, to “defend the Constitution of the United States”. That Constitution protects the “Right of Conscience,” including the right to conscientiously object to war as an instrument of public policy. But given the climate we face right now, asserting such a right takes real courage. It is the exercise of that courage which makes Sgt. Benderman a hero in my book.
It is a crime and a shame that while we are so busy working to expand freedom to other nations, we can’t slow down to protect our precious freedoms among ourselves. Φ
Cynthia McKinney of Georgia was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives when she made this speech in April of 2005. In 2008, she became the Green Party Candidate for President, and recently she was arrested by the Israeli Navy while on a boat, the Spirit of Humanity, attempting to deliver humanitarian aid to people in Gaza.