… along the route there was this one woman standing alongside the road with a young girl of about 8 or 9 years old and the little girl’s arm was burned all the way up her shoulder … she had 3rd degree burns the entire length of her arm and she crying in pain. ….
I asked the troop executive officer if we could stop and help the family and I was told that the medical supplies that we had were limited and that we may need them, I informed him that I would donate my share to that girl but we did not stop to help her.
— “Why I Refused A 2nd Deployment To Iraq,” Sgt. Kevin Benderman, 3rd Inf. Div, U.S. Army, 1987 to present, seeking conscientious objector status, charged with desertion (court martial trial: May 11)
Today, Democracy Now! interviewed Benderman and other AWOL soldiers, along with Harper’s Kathie Dobie, author of “AWOL in America: When Desertion is the Only Option.”
::: more below :::
My Personal Story:
During the Vietnam war, someone I’d gotten to know called me from Canada. He’d just completed basic training and was so freaked out, he’d sold everything he owned, taken the cash, and headed to the mountains of northwest Canada. To make a very long story short, I first sought the extraordinarily realistic advice and help of my boss at King Broadcasting Co., at that time a bastion of liberalism where we closed down the station at lunchtime and marched against the war. My boss called attorneys and others.
Then, I rushed to my Kharmann Ghia and drove as fast as i could from Seattle to Canada. For hours and hours, I talked to my friend — in a highly delicate dance of empathy and expression of practical reality. Then, finally, he climbed in the car with me, and I and drove him back across the border late that night. The consequences of desertion would have been too much for this person and, last I heard, he completed service and is living a loving life with a family he adores.
That was then. This is now:
We imagine 5,500 conscientious objectors to a bloody quagmire, soldiers like Staff Sergeant Camilo Mejia, who strongly and eloquently protested the Iraq war, having actually served there and witnessed civilians killed and prisoners abused, and who was subsequently court-martialed, found guilty of desertion, and given a year in prison. But deserters rarely leave for purely political reasons. They usually just quietly return home and hope no one notices.” Harper’s, March 2005
Note: This Harper’s article was covered by Chrisblue‘s excellent diary on Feb. 21 but I feel I am continuing his report with today’s interviews as well as my own experiences with deserters.
How did Ms. Dobie get into the topic?
The stories of the conscientious objectors seem to be a handful if 5,500 people were leaving. … [The] G.I. Rights Hotline … began slowly to connect me to soldiers who had left, and the vast majority do not leave because they have problems with this war, in particular. The vast majority leave well before they even get to combat [SUSAN’s note: Just like my friend 35 years ago], and I don’t even think they’re thinking about combat. What they’re thinking about is the training, or they’re thinking about their families. … “AWOL in America: Why Over 5,500 U.S. Soldiers Discharged Themselves,” Democracy Now!, Mar. 15, 2005
Ms. Dobie told Amy Goodman this morning about Jeremiah, one young recruit she’d met:
Now an interesting thing I have to say here is most guys before they go AWOL ask for help. I think that is very important. They go to the military chaplain, they go to their C.O., they go to their military psychiatrist, and they ask to –they ask for help with their family problems, personal problems, financial problems. And Jeremiah went to his C.O. and said, “I can’t do this. I cannot kill.” And his C.O. actually said to him that he wished it were 100 years ago, because he could shoot him right then and there.
AMY GOODMAN: So, what did he do?
KATHY DOBIE: Jeremiah … decided to pretend he was gay. He and another recruit got together and went to the drill sergeants and said that they had been caught kissing. And they acted very panicky about the whole thing. He said it was the best acting job of his life. The drill sergeants believed them, but they still wouldn’t release them.
AMY GOODMAN: And so?
KATHY DOBIE: Jeremiah escaped. He waited, 11:00 at night, he got another recruit to not sound the alarm for an hour, and he and two recruits went out through the woods. They were lost in those woods for about five hours, because they have no idea where they are. They bring you into recruiting 11:00, 12:00 at night, so you are completely disoriented and cut off from the world. So he had no idea how to get out. But they did get out. And then he flew home to Portland, Oregon, and then after he was dropped from the rolls, he turned himself in to Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and he was given an other than honorable discharge.
What about those who’ve been to Iraq? Like Kevin Benderman, whose court martial is scheduled for May 11?
– Kevin Benderman, “Why I Refused A 2nd Deployment To Iraq,” from RefusingToKill.net
This morning, Amy Goodman also interviewed three soldiers, but the transcript is not yet available. However, you can listen or watch. Here is the text introduction to the interview:
As we continue to discuss American troops who are resisting deployment to Iraq, we wanted to take a look at some of the stories of soldiers who are speaking out against war.
We are joined in the studio by Carl Webb. He enlisted in the Texas Army National Guard in 2001. His three-year term of service was due to expire last August – but just two months before that, he was informed his term had been extended under the military’s stop-loss policy and he was to be deployed to Iraq in November. Carl Webb refused to report for duty and has been AWOL since then. He joins us in our firehouse studio today.
We are also joined on the line by another soldier who is AWOL. He was deployed to Iraq for a year. After returning home he refused to return to Iraq when he was called up for a second tour of duty. He has asked to remain anonymous.
And on the line from Georgia we are joined by Kevin Benderman, a sergeant in the 3rd Infantry Division. He is seeking conscientious objector status and has just been charged with desertion. His court martial trial is set to begin on May 11.
• Carl Webb
• Anonymous AWOL soldier
• Kevin Benderman
Update [2005-3-15 12:37:6 by susanhbu]:
The transcript for “Three U.S. Soldiers Refusing to Fight Speak Out Against the Iraq War” is up now. Here is a segment:
One thing that I saw that very much bothered me was as a military policeman some of our jobs. I was in Tikrit, Iraq. We would drive around town and our sergeants, our officers, would get bored so they’d tell us to go raid this whole block of homes, you know. And so we’d go into every home, and if we found anything as small as a knife or a pistol in any home, which I think you could go in any home in America and find a knife or a pistol, but if we found anything like that, we’d arrest all the males in the house, ages eight to 80 and leave all the females behind crying their eyes out, and that was never very fun to watch. Then what we’d go do is throw these men who maybe didn’t do anything in the same jails as the ones that we knew had set off I.E.D.s and had set off — and had tried to kill soldiers. So, you’re just throwing them all in with each other, and eventually it is going to change their minds. You know, you are going to make the distant relatives bitter, and you are going to — you are starting a whole new war with people who really don’t deserve it.
AMY GOODMAN: So, when did you come back?
ANONYMOUS AWOL SOLDIER: March 2004. Once I came back, I realized very quickly that my whole opinion had changed about the idea of war and why the United States gets involved in it. So, I applied for conscientious objector at that point. I didn’t know that civilian attorneys are supposed to help out with that. They can. But the military didn’t give me any idea of what is supposed to be in this conscientious objector application. They didn’t tell me there was an appendix for it, they didn’t tell me what the rules or standards were. So, that night I went home, and I typed up 10 pages of just complaints and rants and, you know, what I felt was wrong with the military and with our government, period. And I turned it in the very next day, and a week later I was in a chaplain’s office getting yelled at, and then a military psychiatrist’s office pretty much getting harassed.
AMY GOODMAN: Getting yelled at by the chaplain?
ANONYMOUS AWOL SOLDIER: Oh, I’ve been yelled at by chaplains many times, including basic training. Chaplains are not what they pretend to be, men of God in the army. They’re army all the way through. They are soldiers. They would bleed green before they would ever consider God, at least in — at least in my experience. But I didn’t know the process at all. And so my application got denied very quickly. …
Read all of his story in the transcript.