SOA 28 Trials, January 26-28 2004 Print
1/26/04
The federal trial for the 27 human rights activists facing federal charges for civil disobedience began today in Columbus, Georgia. The 27 were among 10,000 who gathered in November to call for a closure of the SOA, renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. The defendants peacefully crossed onto Fort Benning property, site of the school. They were charged with trespass, and faced up to six months in federal prison and $5,000 in fines.

Today five defendants plead guilty, and 12 plead not guilty stipulating to the facts the prosecution presented. Their sentences ranged 12 months probation to six months in federal prison, and fines ranging from 500 to 1,500 dollars. Father Ben Jimenez who has been in jail since being arrested on November 23rd was released on time served. The defendants now join the list of 170 people who have served a total of over 75 years in prison, and 47 people who have served sentences of probation for engaging in nonviolent resistance in a broad-based campaign to close the school. The remaining nine defendants will begin their trials tomorrow at 9am.

?With your pen and with your word you too can be heard for truth, peace, and justice, you too can walk with us?, said Leisa Ann Faulkner-Barnes in her testimony to Judge Faircloth.

The SOA/WHISC is a combat training school for Latin American soldiers. Its graduates are consistently involved in human rights atrocities and coups, including the El Mozote Massacre of over 900 civilians and the failed coup of 2002 in Venezuela. In 1996 the Pentagon was forced to release manuals used at the school that advocated torture, extortion, and execution. In a statement about their action of conscience, several defendants state that ?[Latin American military forces] do not exist primarily to defend one nation against another, but rather to protect an unjust and inequitable distribution of resources within each country against movements of social and political change.

SOA Watch, founded in 1990, is a national, grassroots, faith and conscience- based group committed to nonviolence. We have offices in Columbus, GA, Washington, DC and chapters in communities and on campuses around the country. Our goal is to expose and close SOA/WHISC.

Day Two of Trials 1/27/04
The trial for three defendants that chose to exercise their right for a full trial commenced today, Judge G. Mallon Faircloth found each defendant guilty. Alice Gerard recieved three months in federal prison and a $500 fine. Fr. Bernie Survil recieved three months. Brother Mike O'Grady was taken directly from the U.S. District Court back to Muscogee County Jail, where he was incarcerated since his arrest on November 23, 2003 to serve another 32 days.

The defense argued that the first amendment rights of protesters were violated when the base blasted loud music at the crowd on Saturday, creating a limited public forum. The defense argued that the base was using the music as a form of political speech, therefore said defendants would not have been in violation of the charges against them because their actions would have been protected by the first amendment.

Final Day of Trial 1/28/04

Nuns, Priests, Divinity School Student, a Former New York City Firefighter, and a Nobel Peace Prize Nominee Sentenced for Nonviolent Protest of the School of the Americas/WHISC
Twenty- two human rights activists received three to six month sentences in Federal Prison for nonviolent actions to close the SOA/WHISC

Columbus, GA- Twenty-seven human rights advocates from across the country were tried this week in federal court for civil disobedience to close, what they call a terrorist training camp on U.S. soil: the School of the Americas renamed Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (SOA/WHISC). Graduates of the controversial combat training school for Latin American soldiers continue to be implicated in human rights atrocities throughout Latin America. The defendants were among 10,000 who gathered in November to call for the closure of the SOA/WHISC.

The defendants included one Catholic nun, three Jesuit priests and one Jesuit brother, a Presbyterian minister, a Diocesan priest, a Franciscan priest, two Quakers, a divinity school student, a former New York City Firefighter, a Nobel Peace Prize Nominee, and various human rights activists.

?I just felt a need, a calling, to commit an intentional act of civil disobedience, especially because of what is going on in Iraq when the United States is involved in a pre-emptive, aggressive war?, stated defendant Dave Corcoran, hospital chaplain

The defendants testified in court against a double standard in the ?war on terrorism?, offering evidence to put the SOA/WHISC and U.S. foreign policy on trial. Defense Attorney Edward Osowski argued that first amendment rights of defendants were violated when the military blasted patriotic music toward the permitted demonstration site on Saturday, November 22nd.

The trial judge, G. Mallon Faircloth, adhered to his previous sentencing record, and gave sentences ranging from 12 months probation to six months in federal prison, with fines ranging from 500 to 1,500 dollars.

The SOA/WHISC is a combat training school for Latin American soldiers. Its graduates are consistently involved in human rights atrocities and coups, including the El Mozote Massacre of over 900 civilians and last year's failed coup in Venezuela. In 1996 the Pentagon was forced to release training manuals used at the school that advocated the use of torture, extortion and execution. SOA Watch founder Fr. Roy Bourgeois traveled to Venezuela to ask president Hugo Chavez to stop sending Venezuelan military personnel to the SOA/WHISC. Chavez, who continues to be popular amongst the overwhelmingly poor population of Venezuela, is taking Fr. Bourgeois request under serious consideration.

Fr. Joe Mulligan began a liquids only fast today upon entering Muscogee County Jail today to begin his three month sentence Statement on Fast Sentences: Elizabeth Bradley, 49, of Sacramento, CA- 12 months probation, $500 fine Leisa Faulkner Barnes, 49, of Sacramento, CA- three months federal prison, $500 fine Louise Lynch, of Fremont, CA- 12 months probation, $500 fine Faith Fippinger, 63, of Sarasota, Fl- three months federal prison David Corcoran, 69, of Des Plaines, Ill- six months federal prison Scott P. Diehl, 40, of Burlington, IA- three months federal prison, $500 fine Kathy Kelly, 51, of Chicago, Ill- three months federal prison Craig Adams, 52, of Glenwood, WI- three months federal prison Rich Wekerle, 67, of Moscow, ID- six months federal prison Cynthia Brinkman, SSND, 67, Ellington, MN-six months federal prison Ozone O?Leary, currently residing in Duluth, MN- three months in federal prison Mary Vaughan, of White Bear, MN- 24 months probation, $500 fine Michael Walli, 55, of Duluth, MN- three months federal prison, $500 fine Gregory Poferl, 57, of St. Paul, MN- three months federal prison, $1,000 fine Gary Ashbeck, of Baltimore, MD- six months federal prison, 67 days credited for time served Betsy Lamb, 65, of Columbia, MD- six months federal prison, $500 fine Shirley Way, 42, of Stanley, NY- three months federal prison Alice E. Gerard, 47, of Buffalo, NY- three months federal prison, $500 fine Fr. Joseph E. Mulligan, S.J., 60, of Nicaragua- three months federal prison Brother Mike O?Grady, S.J., 41, of Cincinnati, OH- 32 days Muscogee County Jail Fr. Ben Jimenez, S.J., of Cleveland, OH- released on time served Peg Morton, 73, of Eugene, OR- three months federal prison Father Bernie Survil, 63, of Greenburg, PA, three months federal prison Don Beisswenger, 73, of Nashville, TN- six months federal prison, $1,000 fine Sarah Jobe, 22, of Nashville, TN- 12 months probation, $1,500 fine Eric Robison, 23, of Bellingham, WA- six months federal prison, $1,000 fine Father Jerry Zawada, 66, of Burlington, WI- six months federal prison