SOA 16 Trial & Festival of Hope Print
8:00am -

The procession arrived at the Columbus U.S. Courthouse and met with the local press for a fifteen minute press conference. We heard statements from five of the 16 defendants: Joshua Harris, Cathy Webster, Martina Leforce, Alice Gerard and Don Coleman. In his statement, Joshua Harris spoke of the diverse backgrounds and inspiration of the sixteen defendants; Cathy Webster, in all her wisdom as a grandmother and peace activists reminded us of the importance of love and solidarity against all odds ; Martina Leforce spoke of the connections between the SOA/WHINSEC and the inherent injustice within the political and economical policies implemented by the U.S. government; defendant Alice Gerard's statement focused our need to defend our right to freedom of speech; the closing statement came from Don Coleman of Chicago, IL who told us the story of a family from Guatemala who was torn apart by SOA-trained military during the dirty war.

7:40am -
The SOA 16 together with friends, families and supporters began the march to the courthouse calling out the names of victims of SOA/WHINSEC sponsored violence in Latin America and responding with "Presente!".

7:30am -
This morning we gathered at the lobby of the Howard Johnson hotel on Veteran's Parkway to begin the procession to the U.S. Courthouse. Fr. Roy Bourgeoise of SOA Watch gave an emotionally-charged opening speech before initiating the march to downtown Columbus.

January 28-30, 2007 - Festival of Hope and SOA 16 Trials
Throughout the week of January 28-30 Columbus, Georgia is once again the meeting place for human rights activists from around the country. Families, friends and supporters traveled thousands of miles to accompany and share with the sixteen SOA Watch activists who will be facing trial on Monday the 29th.

- On Sunday, January 28th we gathered at the Howard Johnson?s Presidential Ballroom to celebrate the Festival of Hope. We celebrated the struggle for human rights and justice by sharing stories, anecdotes, poetry and singing songs of hope.

Former Prisoner of Conscience (POC), Ken Kennon, read a poem written during his time served in federal prison for protesting the SOA/WHINSEC. Father Roy Bourgeoise gave us an update from his recent trip to Latin America where together with Lisa Sullivan, Carlos Mauricio and Pablo Ruiz (Observadores de la Escuela de las Americas-Chile) he met with other human rights activists and government authorities in Panama, Ecuador, Colombia and Nicaragua. We also had the honor of hearing Jennifer Harbury, author of ?Truth, Torture and the American Way? (Beacon Press, 2005) and widow of Efrain Bamaca Velasquez, a Mayan resistance leader who was abducted, tortured and executed by Guatemalan graduates of the SOA/WHINSEC.

- On Monday, January 29, the SOA 16 will appear in federal court in Columbus to put the SOA/WHINSEC on trial.The sixteen were arrested on November 19, 2006, after carrying the protest to close the School of the Americas (SOA/WHINSEC) onto the Fort Benning Military Reservation, publicly defying the laws which prevent political speech on military bases and making a bold call for justice and accountability.
The sixteen were held at Ft. Benning and charged for "unlawful entry" by the federal court. Fifteen of the sixteen arrested were released after bail money ($500 - $1,000/per person) was posted. One person, Margaret Bryant-Ganer, opted to remain in prison, awaiting trial; she is being held at Muscogee County Jail in Columbus, Georgia. (Photo: Linda Panetta )