School of the Americas Civil Disobedience Trial: Day One in Court Print
Columbus, GA ? Thirty-seven human rights activists appeared yesterday in federal court for civil disobedience at the School of the Americas (renamed Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation) in Columbus, Georgia. Ten defendants pled not-guilty, while stipulating to the facts presented by the prosecuting attorney. Judge G. Mallon Faircloth will deliver a verdict for these defendants today. Additionally, eight defendants pled guilty. Trial begins today for the remaining nineteen defendants, and is expected to last throughout the week. All of the defendents will be sentenced at the trial?s conclusion.

The ?SOA 37? were among 10,000 who gathered last November to call for the closure of the notorious school. The defendants peacefully crossed onto Ft. Benning, site of the school, and are charged with trespassing. They face up to six months in federal prison and $5,000 in fines.

Judge Faircloth is known for giving the maximum of six months to opponents of the SOA/WHISC. Seventy-one people have served a total of over forty years in prison for engaging in nonviolent resistance in a broad-based campaign to close the school. Last year 26 people were prosecuted, including Dorothy Hennessey, an 88 year-old Franciscan nun who was sentenced to six months in federal prison.

?Those who speak out for justice are facing harsh prison sentences while SOA-trained torturers and assassins are operating with impunity,? said SOA Watch founder Fr. Roy Bourgeois.

The SOA/WHISC is a combat training school for Latin American soldiers. Its graduates are consistently involved in human rights abuses and atrocities. In 1996 the Pentagon was forced to release training manuals used at the school that advocated the use of torture, extortion and execution. In December 2000 Congress authorized the WHISC to replace the SOA. The renaming of the school was widely viewed as an attempt to diffuse public criticism and to disassociate the school from its reputation. SOA Watch maintains that the underlying purpose of the school, to control the economic and political systems of Latin America by aiding and influencing Latin American militaries, remains the same.