Conscientious objectors face court martial

Navy Petty Officer Pablo Paredes, a Bronx native who refused to board the USS Bonhomme Richard as it was preparing to sail from San Diego in December, was convicted by a Navy judge on a charge of missing his deployment to Iraq. He faces a maximum sentence of one year in prison, a bad conduct discharge, loss of two thirds of his pay and a demotion. Paredes reported to the Navy pier the morning of Dec. 6, but refused to board and was told to go away. After 45 minutes on the pier, he did. He surrendered to military authorities on Dec. 18 after applying for conscientious objector status. The Navy denied his request. That ruling is being appealed. Thomas Jefferson School of Law Professor Marjorie Cohn, an international law specialist, said Paredes had acted from principle. “He said, ‘I don’t want to be a war criminal,'” she recalled. “He was very concerned about the deaths of more than a thousand American servicemen and women, and of thousands of Iraqis.” (Reuters, May 11)

At least tentatively better news is reported in the case of Sgt. Kevin Benderman, an Army mechanic who refused to deploy to Iraq Jan. 8, 10 days after giving his commanders notice that he was seeking a discharge as a conscientious objector. Benderman was to stand trial today on charges of desertion and missing movement, but the judge, Col. Stephen Henley, ruled that the investigating officer who recommended trying him in a general court-martial had compromised her impartiality in an e-mail to a military prosecutor. Commanders at Fort Stewart, GA, have decided to press ahead immediately with the new Article 32 hearing to determine whether to send Benderman’s case back to a general court-martial. Authorities at the base said the ruling does not throw out the charges against Benderman – for which he could face up to seven years in prison, reduction in rank to private and a dishonorable discharge.

Benderman, 40, had already served one tour in Iraq during the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. The 3rd Infantry Division soldier says what he saw there – a young girl clutching a badly burned arm, dogs feeding on corpses in a mass grave and Iraqi civilians drinking from mud puddles – left him morally opposed to returning to war. (AP, May 12)

See also Kevin Benderman Defense Committee.

These are the most recent in a growing number of military conscientious objection cases.