Activists Deploy 1,750 Square Foot Banner Within Fort Benning Military Reservation, Demand School of the Americas Be Closed. Print
Columbus, GA: Early this morning two concerned civilians lowered themselves off of a water tower on the Fort Benning Military Reservation, unfurling a 1,750 square foot red, white and blue banner reading, "North and South The People Say: Close the School of the Americas." Risking prison sentences for their non-violent civil disobedience, Liz Guy (25) of Seattle, WA, and Josh Raisler Cohn (23) of Portland, OR, intend to remain suspended all day to protest the continued existence of the controversial training school, whose graduates are cited by United Nations Truth Commissions for human rights abuses throughout Latin America.

The water tower is easily visible from the barracks that serve as living quarters for the students of the School of the Americas (SOA).

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. In September 1996, the Pentagon acknowledged that the SOA used training manuals advocating torture, extortion, and assassination.

Their nonviolent action takes place on the eve of the twentieth anniversary of the murder of four U.S. church women who were working in El Salvador for the rights of the poor. On December 2 1980, Maura Clarke, Jean Donovan, Ita Ford and Dorothy Kazel were brutally raped and murdered while returning from a MaryKnoll Sisters meeting. The investigation of their murders found several SOA graduates responsible.

"Since the SOA’s inception, its graduates have been directly involved in many of the worst human rights violations in Latin America, including the murder, torture and rape of religious leaders, labor organizers, educators and others working for the rights of the poor," Guy said. "Our tax dollars are training soldiers to use violence to maintain U.S. economic and military dominance in Latin America. We are here to say ‘NO MORE!’"

In response to increasing public awareness and pressure – just last week over 10,000 people came to Fort Benning to protest the school – the military has resorted to cosmetic changes, including a name change to the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. "The new name is only a ploy to disassociate the SOA from its horrific history," said Raisler Cohn, who was arrested on the base two weeks ago for his symbolic hanging in protest of the school. "We are here 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."

Raisler Cohn faces at least one count of criminal trespass. He was released on $5000 bond late Wednesday afternoon. His trial has been set for January 22, 2001. Guy was issued a letter banning and barring her from entering Ft. Benning for five years.