Two years ago today, millions marched in 2,000 cities against imminent war with Iraq. The invasion began March 19. Speak out this Saturday.
… 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:

“AWOL, French Leave, the Grand Bounce, jumping ship, going over the hill-in every country, in every age, whenever and wherever there has been a military, there have been soldiers discharging themselves from the ranks. The Pentagon has estimated that since the start of the current conflict in Iraq, more than 5,500 U.S. military personnel have deserted, and yet we know the stories of only a unique handful, all whom have publicly stated their opposition to the war in Iraq, and some of whom have fled to Canada. The Vietnam war casts a long shadow, distorting our image of the deserter; four soldiers have gone over the Canadian border, looking for the safe haven of the Vietnam years, which no longer exists: there are no open arms for such refugees and almost no possibility of obtaining legal status.

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?

[What] I had done is seen two news clips. One of them was in a New Jersey paper, and that clip talked about a 21-year-old actually sneaking through a window of a house, being stopped by the cops, and when they found out that it was the window of his own house, and they also found out that he had deserted from the army. And the second story was a 17-year-old who had had a car accident in a small town in Massachusetts, and the police showed up again. They ran his driver’s license and found out he had deserted from basic training in Fort Benning. So, those two stories suggested to me that there were people leaving that nobody was coming after, and that they were simply leaving and going home. So, at that point, I wanted to know why they were leaving.

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:

On the second day, a sergeant addressed the 110 recruits [and Jeremiah] and said that “a lot of people asked me why I joined the Army ten years ago. Did I join it for the money? Did I join it for the women? Did I join it for the educational benefits?” And he said, “No, I joined it to shoot mother [beep].” At that point, everybody started screaming and yelling, you know, and cheering in that room, and Jeremiah at that point felt, “I can’t be here.” [H]e went to his commanding officer.

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.


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?

Image Hosted by I saw the effects of what war does to people, those effect are such; homes were bombed, people were living in mud huts, people were obtaining their drinking water from mud puddles along the side of the road and were catching rain in buckets when it did rain, they begged us for food and water and we had enough, we would share it with the people that were there, the kids looked especially hungry and thirsty. The commander told us to stop giving the people food because they would get food from other sources after the trucks started bringing in relief supplies.

– Kevin Benderman, “Why I Refused A 2nd Deployment To Iraq,” from

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:

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.usWe speak with three U.S. soldiers who are refusing deployment to Iraq: Carl Webb, who is AWOL after refusing to report for duty when his term was extended under the military’s “stop-loss” policy, Kevin Benderman [PHOTO] who has been charged with desertion and is facing a court martial after refusing to return to Iraq and another soldier who served in Iraq and is now AWOL after refusing to return when he has called up for a second tour off duty.

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

Note: The photos of the Iraqi girl who was burned, and grieving Iraqis, are from Signs of the Times, and posted by

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:

ANONYMOUS AWOL SOLDIER: Well, when I first went to Iraq, I actually believed what the government was saying, that we were searching for weapons of mass destruction, we were making the country safe for democracy and things like that. But when we got there, I quickly found another story. I very quickly found that the Iraqis didn’t want us there and that the image they’re reporting in the news at home was that everything is — everything is going well. And I really think the media tried to make a face on that at the beginning. But we got there, the Iraqis, they’d throw stones at us, unless you gave them money. If you gave them money or food, they liked you for a little bit. But public opinion was not very good over there at all.

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.

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