26 Human Rights Defenders Face Prison for SOA Protest Print
Columbus, GA - Twenty-six opponents of the U.S. Army School of the Americas (recently renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation) are set to go to trial May 22, 2001 in Columbus, Ga. The defendants are charged with reentering the U.S. Army Military Reservation at Ft. Benning, Ga. after being ordered not to return. They face up to six months imprisonment and/or a $5,000 fine.

Twenty-four of the defendants were among the 3,600 protesters who walked onto Ft. Benning last November as part of a solemn funeral procession commemorating the 1989 murder of six Jesuits and two women in El Salvador. Graduates of the School of the Americas, a U.S. military training facility housed at Ft. Benning, were responsible for their murder. "What’s happening is so heinous, so diabolical that I had to stand up for the rights of others. It’s my civic responsibility", said Richard John Kinane, a co-defendant, therapist, and practicing Buddhist from Boulder, Colorado.

The 26 come from 12 different states, and range in age from 19 to 88. The group includes a prison chaplain, two school teachers, a retired business executive, a journalist, a union organizer and four nuns. Several members of the group are related to one another.

Nearly fifty opponents of the SOA have served a combined total of thirty years in federal prison for civil disobedience on Ft. Benning. Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Charles Litkey is currently serving a one-year sentence for trespassing at Ft. Benning in 1999.

During its 54-year history, the SOA – supported with millions in taxpayer funds – has trained over 60,000 Latin American troops in combat skills. Hundred of thousands have been tortured, raped, "disappeared", massacred or forced into refuge by those trained at the SOA. Graduates of this School of Assassins continue to appear in reports of current human rights abuses in countries such as El Salvador and Colombia. Colombian graduates have been implicated in recent atrocities and have been tied to paramilitary death squads.

New legislation regarding the SOA was recently introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives by three Republicans and three Democrats. HR 1810 will call for the closing of the school, as well as an investigation into the training it provides.

SCHEDULE:

- Festival of Hope and Commitment - 5/21, 7:00pm
Howard Johnson’s, Presidential Room, 1011 Veteran’s Pkwy.

- Procession to Courthouse and Vigil - 5/22, 7:30am
Howard Johnson’s, 1011 Veteran’s Pkwy.

- Press Conference - 5/22, 8:00am- Federal Courthouse steps
120 12th St., Downtown Columbus

- Trial- 5/22, 9:00am - Federal Courthouse