Seven Arrested Protesting SOA Name Change on Ft. Benning; Supported by Protests World-Wide Print
Columbus, GA – Minutes before the Department of Defense was set to reopen the School of the Americas (SOA) under the name, “Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation,” four college students, Rebecca Johnson age 21 of Cincinnati, OH, Laurel Paget-Seekins, age 20 of Philo, CA, Joseph Floyd, age 19 of Atlanta, GA, and Jole McGreevy, age 20 of Carlisle, PA, blocked the road leading to the SOA with their arms locked together inside pipes. Two other college students Becky Karasack, age 20 of Greensburg, PA, Rebecca Mantey, age 21 of Haverford, PA, and Johnson’s mother Deborah Meem, age 51 of Cincinnati, OH, attempted to walk to the reopening ceremony carrying a baby coffin to remind those attending the ceremony of the atrocities of the past carried out by SOA graduates. All seven were arrested and taken into military police custody. Johnson and Paget-Seekins, both seniors at Oberlin College, have previously been banned from the base and are risking up to six months in federal prison and a $5000 fine.

In addition to the vigil and civil disobedience at Ft. Benning, people in more than 45 cities nationally and internationally, as far away as Chile, Honduras, Costa Rica, Germany and Austria, held vigils, mock renaming ceremonies, and participated in nonviolent civil disobedience actions to voice their opposition to the school.

Johnson is on the 17th day of a month long juice only fast and vigil outside the main gates of Ft. Benning to protest the reopening of the SOA, “I’m not fooled by the name change, it’s still a School of Assassins, and I’m here to show that we are just as dedicated to close this SOA clone,” asserted Johnson.

During its 54-year history, the SOA has trained over 60,000 Latin American troops in combat skills. SOA-trained troops have used these skills to wage war against their own people with disastrous results. Hundred of thousands of Latin Americans have been tortured, raped, “disappeared”, massacred or forced into refuge by those trained at the SOA. Dubbed the “School of Assassins” in Panama, SOA graduates continue to appear on the lists of current human rights abusers and to act with impunity in countries from El Salvador to Colombia. Colombian graduates have been implicated in recent atrocities and have been tied to paramilitary death squads.

Today’s reopening is part of a “reform package” introduced by the Department of Defense in response to mounting pressure from Congress and the public to close the school. This “reform package”, which passed in the House of Representatives by a narrow 214-204 vote margin, has been called cosmetic by even the school’s supporters. The SOA and its successor share the same facility, purpose, mission and history. Renaming the training facility at Fort Benning but failing to establish meaningful change does not rectify the systemic problems of this outdated and counter-democratic institution.