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‘Another Man Without A Country'

January 15, 2002

The following is the continuation of the story, "Another Man Without A Country," which began on the Jan. 8 youth page.

The dreams of Michael Bentley and al-Qaida began to unravel as the Taliban regime collapsed.

We all know that story, so I won't waste the reader's time by reciting how Michael and his organization launched their "holy war" and how the U.S. responded.

Suffice it to say that one day, Michael found himself as a captive of allies of the U.S. and held for trial. His parents, friends and countrymen found themselves unable to believe that this American had actually fought against other Americans. Many, upon hearing of this "holy warrior" who fought against their country and with Osama bin Laden, wanted him shot immediately. Others wanted him tried for treason. Still others said he was a young and impressionable man who had been hijacked, just as sure as Osama bin Laden had hijacked Islam for his personal war. Then he simply disappeared.


We'll probably never know who made the decision, but Michael Bentley found himself facing a military tribunal on a ship far out to sea. At his trial, when asked about his choice to fight against America, Michael said that the "jihad" had turned out to be exactly what he had expected. When he was asked if he regretted his choices, he replied, "Damn, the United States, and may I never see or hear her name again."

After a short time, the court rendered its verdict. It was a verdict that was initially confusing to many who expected Michael to receive the death penalty for treason.

The military judge, an admiral, said to Michael, "You will receive your wish. You are forever banned from the United States and from ever hearing her name again. You will be confined for life on ships of the United States Navy, never approaching sight of the coast.

"To the best of our ability this court will insure that you never hear the word, United States, or see any reference to the country of your birth ever again."

Michael Bentley was stateless and would be forever.

He was forever banned from any information whatsoever about the United States. A guard was constantly with him to enforce the court's verdict. He could speak with anyone, but all who spoke to him were warned that they could never mention anything related to the country of his birth.

He could read any newspaper, magazine or book from any country, so long as any mention of the United States was cut out.

Reading a newspaper from almost any country was difficult, because someone had to censor its content. Radio and television were completely banned because it was too difficult to monitor what came in.

As the reader can imagine, this limited his access to news in the world and cut him off entirely from his country.

He had access to the Internet, but his access was limited by a filter that prevented him from seeing any page created in the United States or containing any reference at all to his country of birth. He was allowed to talk with the officers and men of the ships to which he was to be rotated after his conviction. However, as a rule, they avoided him because when he was around, they were not allowed to speak of home or family.

Michael Bentley truly became "Another Man Without a Country" after his trial, and most Americans were glad to hear it. They forgot him, as they have forgotten other traitors in our past. The only reason I had to remember him was that I had been sent to interview him by the judge advocate corps shortly after his conviction.

How the saga of Michael Bentley would have played out, none of us knows, because he might have had many years left in his life. However, from the manner of his death, we can only believe that he realized the finality and complete absence of hope for a reduction of his sentence, and that led to his suicide.

So, why have I written this story? To share with you readers the words of Phillip Nolan, the first American who had become a "Man Without a Country." In the early 1800s, Philip had been convicted of treason for his part in Aaron Burr's plot. He had received the same sentence that Michael had.

I have no doubt someone on the tribunal remembered Philip and the story of his punishment during their deliberations. Although we'll never know the circumstances of Michael's sentence, we do know how Philip felt at the end of his.

The words below were given to a reporter by the first "Man Without a Country" in the mid-1800s, as he neared the end of his almost 50 years of life separated from the United States. I left a copy of these words with Michael at the time of our interview.

"…. if you are ever tempted to say a word or to do a thing that shall put a bar between you and your family, your home and your country, pray God in His mercy to take you that instant home to His own heaven.

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