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Home About Us Prisoners of Conscience Court Statements Sr. Maureen Newman
Sr. Maureen Newman PDF Print E-mail
I am here today out of my faith tradition and my religious commitment. I am walking with the oppressed people of Central and South America. I am acting in solidarity with my religious sisters who are missioned in Haiti and El Salvador. The Constitutions of my Community, the Sisters of Providence, state that ?Attention to the needs of the poor and to situations of injustice which oppress them arouses in us a concern for the demands of social justice. We therefore consider it a duty to promote human dignity by acts of solidarity with persons and groups, sharing what we have with them even to the point of risking our own security.? The Gospels of Jesus Christ also call me to be here. ?Blessed are those who work for peace and blessed are those who are persecuted because of their struggle for justice.? (Matthew 5: 9-10).

I do not see myself as a criminal and I did not engage in criminal activity. This is why I am pleading not guilty. If you want to say that I did break a law, I would not take breaking a law lightly. If a bad law such as segregation oppresses or endangers or limits the right to livelihood of a large group of people, one may be called to do more than just picket or write letters to Congress. In the time of segregation, letters and legal picketing did not change the laws of segregation. Actions of civil disobedience did change these oppressive laws.l

In like manner, a law that funds a school that teaches soldiers from Latin America to engage in terrorist tactics on their civilian population must be discontinued. In order to make the U.S. population aware of how their tax dollars are being spent, sometimes one must break a civil law in order to draw attention to a higher law of human rights. The soldiers from WHISC and the former SOA have broken numerous U.N. human rights laws.

My decision to risk arrest and a possible prison sentence was fueled in part by a program that I attended in October at Seattle University in which Colombian church workers described the devastating impact that the US war on narcotics has had on Colombian peasants. In displacing the farmers, the church workers said the impacts have included the deaths of 120 civilians who had sought refuge in a village church, the assassination of Archbishop Cancino, 8 priests and 1 religious, and thousands of disappeared. All of the assassinated church leaders had condemned every military group in Colombia, those backed by the U.S. and those not.

As one example of SOA involvement in Columbia, SOA graduate Brigadier General Jaime Alban, commander of the 3rd Brigade, helped to establish a paramilitary group known as the ?Calima Front. Under his command, the Front has been found responsible for 2,000 forced disappearances and at least 40 executions since 1999.

I was a member of Seattle Witness for Peace and a leader of a delegation to Nicaragua in 1985. I also participated in the Going Home project, an accompaniment of Salvadoran refugees to their homeland. I was part of a Going Home delegation which took food to the returning refugees in the Province of Chalatenango in 1988. As I sat listening to the presentation regarding Colombia, the memory of the women of Nicaragua and El Salvador haunted me. Their eyes are always with me, as I remember how they spoke of being raped, their children kidnapped, and their husbands disappeared. Their faces continue to be with me in prayer and their voices saying, ?If the people of the U.S. knew that their tax dollars were going to support a School that trains personnel in terrorist tactics, they wouldn?t stand for it.?

We are being told by our government that money was not spent for the terrorist activities of SOA graduates, but we know that $1.3 million was spent daily in El Salvador for the war and that our government had knowledge of gross human rights violations (the raping of women, the kidnapping of children, the assassinations of human rights activists and religious workers).

In the history of the SOA, there have been name changes, but the same human rights violations by students have occurred after the name changes. Though the U.S. government has tried mightily to suggest that the Congressional transformation of the School of the Americas into WHISC means that the SOA has been closed, few outside the Army apologists are persuaded. In the minds of many including Amnesty International USA, it is a name change with a few cosmetic changes. The Congressional vote of 204 to 214 to close the school was so close that it forced a name change in order to continue the School?s activities.

In 2002, Amnesty International released a study that names SOA violations entitled ?Unmatched Power, Unmet Principles: The Human Rights Dimension of US Training of Foreign Military and Police Forces?. The report calls for a suspension of training at WHISC/SOA until an independent commission can investigate past activities. The independent commission of inquiry should recommend appropriate reparation for any violations of human rights to which training at SOA contributed, including criminal prosecutions, redress for victims and their families, and public apology.

As an educator, I know that in order to revamp curriculum, it takes longer than was taken in the closing of the SOA in October of 2000 and reopening it with a new name in the fiscal year of 200l. Also, if the School no longer has the philosophy of the 80?s and 90?s, then why are the photos of those proven to be guilty of gross human rights violations still hanging in the halls of the newly named WHISC School? The photos of these graduates are a silent witness of the continuing philosophy that it is acceptable to commit these gross human rights violations. It is even stronger than the written and spoken word.

I stand in solidarity with the families of thousands of victims. Our policies continue to kill and harm the most impoverished of Latin America. The U.S. government has been hiding the reality of this School for years.

Given my experiences in Central America, I stand in solidarity with those who challenge injustice in countries where SOA-trained officers continue to oppress their people. I stand in solidarity with the families of thousands of victims. I bring their voices before this court and before the public so that their voices can be heard throughout this country. This military training school must be closed so that the poor of Central and South America can live without fear, and have access to education, health care, and the right to organize for a living wage.
 

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