Human Rights Activists Convicted; Sentencing Today Print
Columbus, GA ? Thirty-seven human rights activists went to trial in federal court this week for civil disobedience at the School of the Americas (renamed Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation) in Columbus, Georgia. Eight of the defendants pled guilty to trespass on Monday. Ten pled not-guilty while stipulating to the facts presented by the prosecution. Judge G. Mallon Faircloth found these ten guilty on Tuesday. Fourteen defendants were tried on Tuesday and Wednesday ? all found guilty with one exception. Five defendants who represented themselves were tried yesterday. Four were found guilty and one will finish trial tomorrow beginning at noon. Sentencing of all of the defendants (excepting the one not-guilty) will follow immediately.

The ?SOA 37? were among 10,000 who gathered last November to call for the closure of the notorious SOA/WHISC. The defendants peacefully crossed onto Ft. Benning, site of the school. Judge Faircloth is known for giving the maximum of six months to SOA/WHISC opponents. 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. Defendant Sr. Kathleen Desautels, a 64-year old nun added, ?The indignities I may have to experience in prison pale in comparison to what the victims of the graduates of that school had to endure.?

The SOA/WHISC is a combat training school for Latin American soldiers. Its graduates are consistently involved in human rights abuses. 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.

Yesterday U.S. Army Major Joseph Blair, a former instructor at the school, testified for the defense. ?I found no substantive changes in the WHISC curriculum. The courses I reviewed were the same identical courses that I taught at the SOA in the 80?s; they simply changed the names? The WHISC continues to teach military practices to control civilian populations, directly violating treaties of the Organization of American States, domestic and international human rights laws, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, NAFTA and other laws.?