Soldier Who Refused Iraq Duty Faces Charge

by Russ Bynum

FORT STEWART, Georgia — Sgt. Kevin Benderman turned his back on war, but he insists he never deserted the Army whose uniform he continues to wear six months after refusing to deploy to Iraq for a second tour. Army mechanic Sgt. Kevin Benderman, right, and his attorney Bill Cassara walk into a pretrial hearing at Fort Stewart, Ga. Attorneys for the Army mechanic who refused to deploy to Iraq are asking a military judge to drop charges that the soldier stole government money by receiving combat pay while he remained in the U.S. Benderman served in Iraq during the 2003 invasion, but says he decided he could no longer be a part of the destruction he witnessed, even if that meant choosing his conscience over his commitment to his fellow troops. He faces a general court-martial Thursday on charges of desertion.

“I went to war. I never ran from it,” Benderman said Wednesday. “I experienced it and I realized it’s not what I should be doing. In my opinion, it’s not what anybody should be doing in the modern world.” Benderman, a mechanic, faces up to five years in prison if convicted. He has opted to let a military judge, Col. Donna M. Wright, decide his guilt or innocence rather than a jury of his peers in uniform.

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Military law defines a deserter as a soldier who flees the military with no intent to return or to “avoid hazardous duty or to shirk important service.”

Benderman declined to discuss specifics of his case. But his civilian defense attorney, William Cassara, said Fort Stewart trumped up charges against Benderman to punish him for his anti-war stance.

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