Activist Stages Symbolic Hanging on Fort Benning Military Reservation Print
Columbus, GA: Early this morning a concerned civilian lowered himself off of an overpass inside the Fort Benning Military Reservation, using his own body to stage a symbolic hanging in front of a black and white banner reading "SOA Kills in Latin America." Josh Raisler Cohn (23), of Portland, Oregon, risks a federal prison sentence for his non-violent civil disobedience against the controversial School of the Americas (SOA), whose graduates are cited by United Nations Truth Commissions for human rights abuses throughout Latin America.

The School of the Americas, located on Fort Benning in Columbus, GA, trains 600-2,000 Latin American soldiers each year in combat skills, including sniper training, commando tactics and psychological operations. These tactics are primarily used by soldiers against their own people, particularly religious leaders, teachers, union organizers and students. In September 1996 the Pentagon acknowledged that the SOA used training manuals advocating torture, extortion, and assassination.

"I’m here to shed the light of truth and public scrutiny on the School of the Americas, an institution whose record the Army wants to hide." said Raisler Cohn. His action today is a precursor to the mass gathering that will occur in five days. Fifteen thousand people are expected to engage in a non-violent vigil and protest at Fort Benning this weekend, November 18 and 19, to commemorate the tens of thousands of victims murdered by graduates of the School of the Americas. At the tenth annual vigil last year, 12,000 people participated and over 4,000 engaged in civil disobedience.

This November marks the eleventh anniversary of the murder of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter in El Salvador. Nineteen of the 26 officers cited by a U.N. Truth Commission as responsible for this massacre were graduates of the SOA. In January of this year, SOA graduate Col. Lima Estrada was arrested in Guatemala for the brutal assassination of human rights champion Bishop Juan Gerardi. SOA graduates were also found responsible for assassinations, murders and kidnappings just last year in Colombia. These are only a few examples of the massacres and other human rights violations which have been directed by SOA graduates.

In response to increasing public awareness and pressure, the military has resorted to cosmetic changes, including changing the school’s name to the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. "The name change is only a ploy to disassociate the school from its horrific history," said Raisler Cohn. "Over 15,000 people will gather at Fort Benning in five days to tell Congress and the U.S. Army that we are not fooled. Whatever name they give the School of the Americas, we want it closed forever."