Six hundred and one protesters (new official number) were arrested today as they sought to deliver petitions with more than 100,000 signatures calling for the closing of the US Army School of the Americas (SOA). The demonstrators -- including priest, nuns, veteran s, college students and peace activists -- marched in a silent funeral procession towards the School of the Americas' headquarters two miles inside the Ft. Benning Army base in Georgia. Pall bearers led the procession with eight coffins holding the petitions. Lines of mourners followed with crosses bearing the names of SOA victims.

All of the people who crossed the line have been released. Of the 601 who crossed the line, only 28 were charged with a crime. These 28 were arrested for crossing into Fort Benning during previous protests.

Nearly 2,000 people gathered outside Ft. Benning during the four-day vigil that culminated with the funeral march. November 16 marks the 8th anniversary of the brutal massacre of six Jesuit priests and their two women co-workers in El Salvador. Nineteen of the 26 Salvadoran officers cited for the massacre were trained at the School of the Americas.

A recently-released Inspector General's Report criticized the School for inadequate oversight of training materials. The IG investigation was ordered after the DOD released the content of seven Spanish-language SOA manuals that condoned torture, blackmail, and assassination.

At an annual cost of $20 million dollars to US taxpayers, the SOA trains 900-2000 soldiers a year. The SOA has been nicknamed the "School of the Assassins" by its opponents because its graduates repeatedly have been linked with assassinations and other human rights abuses in Latin America. To date, critics have documented that one in every 100 SOA graduates has been involved in human rights abuses, drug trafficking or other criminal activity. Graduates of the Ft. Benning School made up over two-thirds of the Salvadoran officers cited by the 1993 UN Truth Commission Report for atrocities during El Salvador's bloody civil war.

In September, by a vote of 210 to 217, the US House of Representatives narrowly defeated an attempt to cut SOA funds. Legislative efforts to close the School will continue into 1998. Two bills are pending: HR611, sponsored by Rep. Joseph Kennedy (M A), and S980, sponsored by Sen. Richard Durbin (IL).