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In the Name of Justice

by MONICA BENDERMAN

Kevin Benderman sits in jail. An injustice. He did not want to go. He did not take his stand, break a law and dare the courts to put him in jail with a stiff sentence. Kevin Benderman put his principles on the line and dared to trust that his rights would be respected as the constitution he fought to defend demands.

Kevin Benderman did everything he could to demonstrate to the military, and to the world, that he did not want to go to jail, by consistently performing his required duties without letting the challenge he faced keep him from his responsibilities

Why would anyone want to go to jail? Why would anyone challenge the legal system to put them in jail?

Kevin Benderman followed the rules and filed an application to be recognized as a Conscientious Objector to war. The military command broke the rules. They did not follow their own procedures, and through their failing of the law, Kevin Benderman is the one serving time. The legal system of our country failed and did not uphold our constitution.

Days and nights are spent working diligently on a plan of action for ensuring due process in Kevin’s case. As he sits in abhorrent conditions, knowing in his heart that he has made the right choice and taken his stand with integrity, many good people work hard to find a way to bring his case to public awareness, and to show the world that justice has not been served.

Kevin is not alone. There are many, not all soldiers, who are wrongfully imprisoned for standing for their beliefs with integrity. They did not choose jail, they trusted that their ethical stand would be respected and treated with dignity by the legal system. They followed the rules, did things the right way and were persecuted for it.

For the soldiers still at war, they choose the road they are on. Does that make the war right? No. Does that make any war right? NO. But, the difficult situation they are in is a choice we all are responsible for. If the war is not over, perhaps it is because many still believe in what they are doing, and have not been shown enough evidence of the truth to change their minds. Wouldn’t it be more beneficial to work harder at making the truth evident as a way to stop the war, rather than shouting loudly until someone finally takes us away for a symbolic night in jail?

Those who have gone to jail for declaring their conscientious objection to the war in the legal manner allowed, have been treated with injustice by a legal system in a country that professes to believe in, and honor, ethical, moral behavior. For justice to be served on their behalf, we must demonstrate evidence of the injustice done. Going to jail ourselves isn’t the best way to do that.

If the law says that protestors need a permit to peaceably assemble, then why not show integrity, and respect for the legal system of this country by getting a permit and conducting the protest in an appropriate manner? Wouldn’t the way to demonstrate the difference between the integrity and higher standards of the citizens of this country, and the lack of real ethical courage of many in our government, be to show that integrity in the choice of our actions?

If protestors knowingly break a law, they should be arrested. If they choose to ask the courts to throw the book at them, then that is their choice. Although why anyone would want to do that is not something easily understood. What is demonstrated by breaking a law and going to jail for it – daring the judge to make it a stiff sentence? Who wins? What is the purpose?

The conditions of the prison at the Ft. Lewis Regional Correctional Facility are appalling.

The rights of the inmates in this facility are violated on a daily basis. Is the way to protest the war to put ourselves in jail? Do the people of America really care if someone chooses to sit in jail ­ when they have the freedom to choose to take a stronger, more positive stand – one that demonstrates that they are not willing to become what many in our government appear to already be? Should they care?

We can protest the war, we can protest the illegality, we can publicly speak to the corruption we believe exists. But until there is proof, evidence beyond a shadow of a doubt, we cannot put someone in jail. To consider anything else, would be to lower our standards far below where Kevin Benderman, and others like him were willing to go.

The legal system of this country is failing us if evidence shows that laws are broken and no punishment is given. The legal system is also failing us when 15 commissioned Army officers, sworn to uphold the constitution, use their power and rank to put one soldier in jail for stating the truth and standing by his moral and ethical values, and not one officer of the law dares to stop the process.

As we watch the progress in Iraq, and as the potential indictments come closer to the final day of knowing, time will tell what comes next. If laws were broken, then justice will determine the course of action. People have made significant mistakes, and accountability is necessary. But let’s not become what we are fighting against, just to get results.

Let’s find the moral courage to make our country strong again, to take the right course, and stand on principle. Let’s not allow emotions to force our actions to become reactions. We have one chance to make things right, to build a foundation based on principles and integrity. Step by step, brick by brick we can make our country whole again.

We cannot prosecute someone on assumptions, and we should not allow someone to go to jail for injustice. We cannot fabricate evidence, twist and manipulate papers and tell five different stories under oath, just because a person’s actions challenge our beliefs.
All of this is fact in Kevin Benderman’s case. He did not choose jail ­ he chose his right to live as he believes, as this country should allow. His stand ­ to live according to his principles ­ are what threatened his command, and pushed them into a corner, challenging them to face what he was saying or use their position to lock truth away in the confines of a dilapidated jail where justice does not matter, where no one is held accountable for their actions.

Those officers couldn’t find their integrity ­ they ran from it. They were afraid to face what his choice told them about themselves.

What does the choice of willingly breaking a law and then willingly accepting the consequence of jail ­ ASKING for it ­ tell us?

This country needs to move toward positive solutions, toward better choices. This country needs to be led back to the constitution. If you break a law that was created to preserve the rights of all people, then the constitution allows punishment for that. It is not fair to make a travesty of those who suffer as a result of injustice by creating the appearance of injustice, any more than it is fair for our soldiers to die to preserve individual freedoms for people who really don’t care about the soldiers’ sacrifice.

The citizens of this country deserve the right to make their choices, but the citizens of this country deserve to be led by people who stand by their integrity and who walk tall when those who use their power and rank to dole out injustices try to imprison the truth inside a steel cage.

If we want change we have to be the change, and live it in our lives. Whether we are for the war, or against it, we have all suffered, and lost because of it. It is each individual’s choice how they wish to proceed. All those in favor of staying the course ­ are free to take my husband’s place in jail at any time.

To learn more about Sgt. Kevin Benderman’s journey to Conscientious Objection, and to understand the psychological and manipulative tactics he faced from the Military and the chain of command to deter him from his public stance on Conscientious Objection, please visit our website, www.BendermanTimeline.com

MONICA BENDERMAN may be reached at mdawnb@coastalnow.net

 

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