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Home About Us Prisoners of Conscience Court Statements Alice Gerard's Statement in Court
Alice Gerard's Statement in Court PDF Print E-mail
January 27, 2003

Thank you, Judge Faircloth, for giving me the opportunity to express myself today.

As a journalism student in the early 1980s, I was taught to report on unfolding events as an uninvolved observer. I believed most fervently that unbiased reporting was essential to the maintenance of a free and independent news media. But, over the years, I developed some concerns about the conflict that I saw between my responsibilities as a journalist and my responsibilities as a human being. If, for example, I were to observe someone being mugged, should I whip out a reporter?s notebook or should I call for help or take some other action to try to stop the harm from being done?

Since much of my work involves noncontroversial information, such as reviewing a comedy in a theater, this ethical conflict almost never comes up.
But, over the course of the past five and a half years, this conflict has come up over one issue repeatedly. That issue is the U.S. Army?s School of the Americas and its successor, the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. I wrote my first piece about the school for the Buffalo Alternative Press in 1998, when a speaker came to Buffalo to talk about the movement to close the school. I knew very little about the school at the time, other than charges that some of the graduates of the school had engaged in coup d?etats and other such intrigue against heads of state.

Several years later, I was asked to interview Father Roy Bourgeois for a lengthy feature article, in advance of his upcoming visit to Buffalo. Because I was aware that my knowledge of the topic was limited, I did extensive research before conducting the interview. I learned that the school?s critics charged that the school?s graduates engaged in shocking behavior, including torture and assassination, against nuns, priests, archbishops, teachers, children, and anyone who might be considered a threat for whatever reason. I learned that the students were following the instructions of torture manuals. I learned new vocabulary, including such expressions as counter insurgency and psychological operations. I realized that this issue bothered me, but I moved on to other stories and issues.

But it was the issue of the School of the Americas to which I kept returning. I interviewed Father Roy for a second time when he visited Buffalo in 2002. That November, I came to Columbus, Georgia, to report on the annual vigil at the gates of Fort Benning. It was my hope to write a balanced story, to present the issues and the people involved, so that the readers could decide for themselves who was right. To do that, I interviewed people connected with the School of the Americas Watch, Colonel Richard Downie, the commandant of WHINSEC, and people from Western New York who had made the long trip to Georgia for the demonstration.

Colonel Downie, upon hearing the name of my publication, seemed skeptical that I could write a balanced article. I assured him that I would do my best. The result of my effort, I felt, was a piece that I considered to be balanced and informative. But it was hard to write. I felt torn about what I had heard. Could it be true that the School of the Assassins was gone, replaced by a new school for a new century? I wanted to believe this.

But something was missing from the official story. As I moved on to other stories, I continued to feel haunted by the names of the disappeared and massacred people of Latin America. I began to wonder if standing aside as disinterested observer might be a display of reckless irresponsibility. If I perceived a harm being done, was I not perpetrating it by not stepping in to stop it?

It was at that time that I read a memoir by an Ursuline nun, Sister Dianna Ortiz, with the intention of reviewing it. I was never able to carry through with that intention. As soon as I started reading the book, I knew that Sister Dianna had been my friend when we attended a Guatemalan language school in 1987. I was shocked to discover that one of Sister Dianna?s torturers was a U.S. citizen and another one had been trained at the School of the Americas.

I was deeply hurt by this revelation. In my mind?s eye, I saw Sister Dianna as she was in 1987, a sweetly smiling young woman amidst the vivid colors of Antigua Guatemala. In my mind?s eye, I also saw the glowing town of Santiago Atitlan, which I had visited three years before a horrific massacre, perpetrated by SOA graduates. It became clear to me that this issue was personal. And, as I worked through my sense of heartbreak and betrayal, I came to understand that there was a harm that had to be stopped. I also understood that I could no longer be objective about this issue so I stopped trying, and I began focusing on it without the protection of a press pass. When I decided to do this, I asked myself: how many others were drenching their pillows with their tears, heartbroken over cruel things that their friends had endured at the hands of SOA graduates? I wanted that to stop.

And now in 2004, I know that the violence has not stopped with the establishment of WHINSEC. The brutal civil war in Colombia continues unabated. And a large percentage of the current students are from Colombia.
I believe that, if the president and Congress and the people running WHINSEC were serious about making that school a place where human rights were taught, they would not object to implementation of the recommendations put forth in Amnesty International?s 2002 report, ?Unmatched Power Unmet Principles.? They would welcome an investigation of the curriculum and the instructional manuals used in the school that they claim is now defunct. But this has not happened.

I have been in contact with my congressional representatives on this issue, and I will continue to do so. I will continue to advocate for approval of HR 1258, the Latin American Military Training Review Act of 2003. I will write opinion pieces to share my concern about this issue to others.

In closing, I would like to say that, even though I have been convicted by this court for violating a federal trespass statute, I do not believe that I have violated any laws. I believe that my actions were protected by the U.S. Constitution?s guarantee of free speech and free assembly and that these rights do not end with a fence at the end of the road.

(note: This is where I requested a sentence of community service, but the judge did not go for that.)
 

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