Human Rights Activists Go To Prison For Protesting Army School Print
Press Conference at the Federal Prison in Pekin IL
Tuesday 7/17, 11:30 am
2600 South 2nd St. (also Rt. 29)
Pekin, IL 61554

The eyes of the world will be on Pekin, Illinois on July 17, as 88-year-old Sr. Dorothy Marie Hennessey, OSF, and 19-year-old college student Rachel Hayward, along with seven other women, surrender to federal prison to begin serving sentences for their nonviolent civil disobedience actions protesting the US Army School of the Americas (SOA) at Fort Benning, Georgia.

With coverage in the New York Times and an appearance on “Good Morning America”, Sr. Dorothy and her 68-year-old sister Sr. Gwen’s witness has attracted national and international attention from the BBC and London Times. Reporters from many of the major television and print outlets (including AP, Reuters, NBC, PBS and CBS) will be at the press conference in Pekin. All nine women will be available for personal interviews and photographs until they are taken into custody.

They are among 26 US citizens who were sentenced on May 23, 2001 for participating in the November 2000 symbolic funeral procession onto Fort Benning, in which 3400 SOA opponents took part. Ten other men and women will also report on the 17th to federal prisons across the country, joining three men who have been in custody since May 23 (see list with contact info, immediately following). Two of the 26 are still awaiting notification to report to prison. Solidarity vigils, prayer services and demonstrations are planned nationwide.

“The SOA/WHISC claims to promote democracy,” said Fr. Roy Bourgeois, founder of SOA Watch. “What message are they trying to send to the militaries and governments of Latin America when they jail these nonviolent protestors who are exercising their rights as citizens in a democracy?”

The SOA - recently renamed the Western Hemispheric Institute for Security Cooperation (WHISC) - trains Latin American soldiers in combat, counter-insurgency and counter-narcotics. Graduates of the SOA are responsible for some of the worst human rights abuses in Latin America. The SOA 26 includes nuns, community workers, union organizers and educators - whose Latin American counterparts are often targets of SOA graduates.

Since 1990, 50 SOA Watch human rights defenders have cumulatively spent some 30 years in prison for nonviolent direct action at Ft. Benning, serving sentences ranging from 2 to 18 months. The struggle to shut the school down continues. On July 18th, an SOA Watch delegation to Colombia returns from Bogota. They will go directly to Fort Benning where delegates will stage a nonviolent civil disobedience action, risking prison time, in solidarity with the people of Colombia and in support of the SOA 26. “Imprisoning the SOA 26 only strengthens the resolve of the movement – we will be back at Fort Benning in November, and we won’t stop until this school is shut down forever,” said Lois Putzier, a union organizer from Tucson, AZ and one of the 26.

SOA Watch is an independent organization that seeks to close the School of the Americas, under whatever name it is called, through vigils and fasts, demonstrations and nonviolent protest, as well as media and legislative work. On May 10, 2001, a bi-partisan bill (HR 1810) was introduced in Congress, calling for the closure of the SOA/WHISC and a congressional taskforce to investigate U.S. military training of Latin American soldiers and human rights abuses in Latin America.