Claiming “you just don’t know how bad it is”, 40-year-old Sergeant Kevin Benderman faces a court martial after teller his commanders he was seeking conscientious objector status.
Last week he failed to leave with his unit in the Army’s 3rd Infantry Division, saying he became morally opposed to war after seeing it firsthand during his first tour of duty.
The 19,000 strong division is the first in the Army tapped for a second tour in Iraq since the 2003 invasion.
“I told them that I refused deployment because I just couldn’t go back over there,” said the mechanic with nine years of army experience.
“If I’m going to sit up there and tell everyone that I do not believe in war, why would I go back to a war zone?”
The US army considers him absent without leave because he had orders to deploy to Iraq while the Army processed his conscientious objector claim.
The US military is still deciding whether to bring charges against Benderman.
“He was AWOL from the unit’s movement,” said spokesman Lt. Col. Cliff Kent. “Beginning the application process for conscientious objection does not preclude you from deploying.”
Gaining objector status is a lengthy process for soldiers, requiring meetings with counsellors and a chaplain with lengthy paperwork reviewed far up the chain of command.
Under military law a person must be opposed to war in all forms, and not just the current conflict in Iraq, to be considered a conscientious objector.
For his part, Benderman says he’s long questioned the morality of the destruction he’s witnessed.
“You can sit around your house and discuss this thing in abstract terms, but until you see and experience it for yourself, you just don’t know how bad it is,” he said.
“How is it an honourable thing to teach a kid how to look through the sights of a rifle and kill another human being? War is the ultimate in violence and it is indiscriminate.”
He defended his decision to wait until a week before his unit deployed to file notice of his objector claim,
“It takes time for you to make sure that you 100 percent want to do things,” he said. “This is not something you make a snap judgment on.”
Filing an objector claim does not prevent the Army from prosecuting soldiers for disobeying orders.
In May, a member of the Florida National Guard was sentenced to a year in prison for desertion despite his pending objector application.
The solider has filed his claim after refusing to return to his unit in Iraq while home on leave.
And in December, a soldier who re-enlisted with the Marines after becoming a Seventh Day Adventist was jailed for refusing to pick up a gun.