Human Rights Activists Begin Federal Prison Term for Civil Disobedience at School of the Americas Print
Twenty-three human rights activists will report to federal prison today (Tuesday, September 10). They were among 37 who went to trial in July for civil disobedience at the School of the Americas (renamed Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation) in Columbus, Georgia. The 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. Thirty-six of the defendants were convicted of trespass, with sentences ranging from six months probation to six months in federal prison and $5,000 in fines. Five reported to prison immediately following sentencing, and 23 will report today.

Judge G. Mallon Faircloth is known for giving the maximum sentence for a misdemeanor to nonviolent 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.

?It?s ironic that at a time when the country is reflecting on how terrorism has impacted our lives, dedicated people who took direct action to stop terrorism throughout the Americas are on their way into prison,? said Sr. Dorothy Hennessey.

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

?The SOA is the terrorist training camp in our own backyard,? said Fr. Roy Bourgeois.

SOA Watch works to stand in solidarity with people of Latin America, to change oppressive US foreign policy, and to close the SOA/WHISC.