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Soldier Says Officer Wants to Deny Him Conscientious Objector Status

An Army sergeant who refused to return to Iraq saying he now opposes the war said Wednesday that an investigating officer is recommending that the military deny his bid to be classified as a conscientious objector.

Sgt. Kevin Benderman, 40, is facing charges of desertion for failing to report when his unit deployed to Iraq Jan. 8. Benderman, a 10-year veteran who previously served eight months in Iraq in 2003, said he was just following instructions.

Benderman told the Savannah Morning News that his superior released him the night Benderman was scheduled to leave for Iraq and told him to go home and think about his desire to remain behind and be discharged as a conscientious objector.

Benderman’s general court martial for failure to deploy is separate from his application to be discharged as a conscientious objector, a process that could last a year or longer.

Benderman told reporters that his military lawyer gave him a letter from Capt. Victor Aqueche, the officer assigned to investigate Benderman’s objector claim, recommending denial.

According to the Associated Press, the investigating officer questioned why Benderman waited until December 2004 to submit his CO application, some 15 months after he claimed his anti-war beliefs originated. He also said Benderman began his initial research shortly after learning about “stop loss”—the Army policy that can force soldiers to serve past their enlistment dates during wartime.

Benderman, who was scheduled to leave the Army last October before his hitch was extended by eight months, said he didn’t want to make any rash decisions and needed time to process all he had seen during his first tour in Iraq and to sort out his feelings about the war. He also said he needed to weigh how best to lead his men: by going with them or standing up for his principles.

Benderman told the AP the Army is “trying to stack the deck against me” by finding things in his CO application to use against him in his court martial.

The Savannah Morning News article quoted him as saying the investigating officer’s packet contained incorrect information and material that has nothing to do with his CO application. “I’m going to file a rebuttal to everything that he included,” Benderman said.

EthicsDaily.com on Thursday carried a story about Benderman’s court martial. He faces the possibility of dishonorable discharge, loss of pay and up to seven years in prison if convicted on charges of desertion to avoid hazardous duty and missing movement through design.

Benderman, a Bradley armored vehicle mechanic, didn’t fire a shot during his first tour in Iraq, but says he saw things there to cause him to believe that all war is immoral.

Though he was raised as a Southern Baptist, Benderman now describes himself as “more spiritual than religious” and says after arriving in Iraq he looked at the Quran and was struck at similarities between Islam and Christianity.

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.