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Home About Us Prisoners of Conscience Court Statements "Why I Crossed the Line at Fort Benning"
"Why I Crossed the Line at Fort Benning" PDF Print E-mail
Starting in 1986, I have made more than ten trips to Latin America?mostly in the context of faith-based delegations sponsored by organizations like Witness for Peace. A major emphasis of these trips was to learn about the effects of U.S. policy there. I also lived for over a year in Guatemala. There, and in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Mexico, and?most recently?Colombia, I heard of the devastating effects of U.S. foreign policy, and of the horrendous violations of human rights perpetrated by?and/or under orders from?graduates of the School of the Americas (SOA/WHISC).

In 1987, I heard a Guatemalan army officer state?his face livid, contorted in anger?that all the problems in his country were due to ?the Maryknolls and the Jesuits?. The problems were attributed to their work in raising the consciousness of poor, downtrodden indigenous Guatemalans, so that they understood their dignity and rights and began to seek what was rightfully theirs.

The army captain?s emotional overstatement scared me. It had to have come from his training, the training which led to a systematic persecution of Catholics throughout Guatemala, a persecution and repression that reverberated throughout Latin America after Vatican II, and left hundreds of thousands dead and millions more displaced or disappeared.

I pray that Maryknoll and Jesuit priests will not be the only ones proclaimed ?guilty? of caring about the dignity and rights of Guatemalans. Those who come to SOA protests at Fort Benning care, too. Some of us come because our faith compels us to care; many others come for other equally compelling humanitarian reasons. We care not only about the dignity and rights of Guatemalans, but also those of Colombians, Salvadorans, Nicaraguans and so many other Latin American people and others who suffer at the hands of all of us whose taxes support the SOA.

This June, I participated in a Witness for Peace delegation to Colombia. In the southwestern province of Cauca, a relatively peaceful part of the country, I heard the weeping of women whose husbands and other loved ones had recently been ?disappeared?. Some 70 individuals in this small province had been disappeared in the opening months of 2003 alone. Every single disappearance sends ripples of fear throughout the disappeared person?s community and well beyond it. The success of the low intensity warfare we are waging in Colombia depends in large part on this imposition of fear.

Everywhere our delegation went, as we heard the names of military personnel associated with human rights atrocities, we were told that the perpetrators had been trained at the SOA.

As a follower of Jesus, I feel a deep obligation to call the United States government to repentance for this School and for all its other methods for supporting the comfort of a few at the expense of the many?of the poor?with total disregard for their lives and their rights as fellow human beings.

The people of Latin America begged us as U.S. citizens to close the SOA. I tried legislative advocacy, without success. I had to do something more. Putting my own comforts on the line is the least I could do, and it is the way I have felt called to work toward this end.

Will my risking up to six months in prison change things? I do not know. I can only say, with the prophet Jeremiah,

You duped me, O LORD, and I let myself be duped;
you were too strong for me, and you triumphed?
I say to myself, I will not mention God, I will speak in God?s name no more.
But then it becomes like fire burning in my heart, imprisoned in my bones;
I grow weary holding it in, I cannot endure it (Jeremiah 20:7a, 9-10, NAB).

I prayed and asked God whether I should or should not cross the line at Fort Benning. I could not do otherwise.


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