Dishonorable Discharge

In 2004, Sgt Kevin Benderman filed for conscientious objector status while he and his unit were preparing to redeploy for a second tour in Iraq.

What is it we are doing in Iraq, actually? Well, this is indeed the trillion dollar question. Don’t worry your pretty little heads about that, Americans! Just keep sending the boys and the girls and the credit, and Washington will do the rest.

We have (or had, as the case may be) soldiers serving not their second, but their third tour in Iraq. A law of diminishing returns for U.S. efforts in Iraq may be in effect — where soldiers are added fruitlessly to ground already saturated with violence and blood and resentment on both sides.

We continue to send soldiers to die and kill, destroy and be destroyed in Iraq. We continue to inflict death and mayhem on Iraqis, in order to "create" stability and "build" a unified and submissive, oil-rich Arab economy.

In the current era, it is politically correct to send hundreds of thousands of soldiers instead of one reliable, somewhat needy and ever so obliging dictator. One understands the neoconservative longing for the old Cold War, and recognizes the source of their flashes of sophomoric insight on world affairs and the global role of our morally bankrupt government.

As Benderman processed his CO status paperwork, the Army charged him with a combination of crimes.

Last week, the Army prosecution succeeded in its case against Sgt Benderman. He was found guilty of "missing a movement" and sentenced to 15 months in prison, reduction in rank, and a dishonorable discharge.

The Army allows for automatic appeals, and ideally Benderman’s case will be overturned. I am not a lawyer, but I imagine a case involving inappropriate procedure, punishment, or politicization might end positively for Benderman. As a retired military officer from the late 20th century American military, I remain pessimistic on all counts.

Benderman’s company commander Army Captain Gary Rowley rhetorically asks, "If [the rest of the Army] saw this and found out it works using smoke and mirrors to get by, we’ll have other soldiers saying, u2018Well, I’m a conscientious objector.’ …They need to know there are consequences for not doing their duty."

The irony drips.

Duty? How about honor? Or country? These words have little meaning to soldiers and Marines in Iraq, trying to keep themselves and their buddies alive so they might someday do something really necessary for this country’s security. Defending its borders, setting an upright example in their communities, and working to preserve the Constitution come to mind. Heck, firefighting is a better use of their time.

Soldiers who believe Iraq is part of an honorable and just war for U.S. security are hard to find. Most understand the closest we come is in defending Halliburton and members of the puppet government, or patrolling oil fields and pipelines that may someday provide militarily subsidized oil to the United States and her loyal creditors.

The Army captain mentioned smoke and mirrors. It is a well-worn phrase in military circles today. They’ve heard about the smoke and mirrors used by the Bush administration to get their little war in Iraq. They’ve executed orders in Iraq that betray the corresponding Pentagon and White House public statements. Remember the library in Baghdad?

They destroyed Falluja to "save" it.

Our soldiers and Marines have seen the lowest grade Army Reservists punished handily for torture of uncharged detainees and prisoners, while ranking officers responsible for implementing and designing the administration’s torture policy wink and nod.

Just last week, they saw the Pentagon public affairs office recycle a very strangely worded "quotation" from an "anonymous Iraqi" in two completely unrelated news stories. While this amazes many Americans and defenders of our foreign policy say it must have been an innocent mistake, our soldiers and Marines know better. They are quite familiar with smoke and mirrors.

Sgt Benderman is happy to explain why he is a conscientious objector. The reaction of the Army and the administration has been typical of their reaction to other examples of moral consistency. As in Caesar’s time, they have been despised and persecuted.

Conscientious objectors sit atop an iceberg in American society. The unseen behemoth comprises millions of parents who are warning their kids away from military service, and turning recruiters away. At least not while we are in Iraq, a stupid murderous little engagement pursued for reasons the President has never bothered to share with the average American.

The Army judge and jury did what they had to do. Justice demands a different verdict, but politics would tolerate nothing but the harshest punishment for the ethics and the example of Sgt Benderman.

Ironically, in a military prison cell, Benderman will be freer and doing more good for America than those doing hard time in Iraq, or pushing government propaganda through the Pentagon Channel here at home.

There has indeed been a dishonorable discharge from the United States military. But it didn’t start last week, and it most assuredly wasn’t Sgt Kevin Benderman.