Over 10,000 Peacefully Converge at Ft. Benning to Expose Double Standard in War on Terrorism and Close School of Americas Print
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November 16 November 17

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Columbus, GA ? Over 10,000 people converged today at the gates of Ft. Benning, Georgia to close what they call a terrorist training camp on U.S. soil ? the School of the Americas, renamed Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (SOA/WHISC), a combat training school for Latin American soldiers. Graduates of the school continue to be implicated in egregious acts designed to terrorize and coerce civilian populations throughout Latin America.

As of 4:30PM ninety-six people had negotiated a ten-foot barbed-wire fence to enter Ft. Benning, site of the school. They engaged in this act of nonviolent civil disobedience despite the likelihood of facing substantial prison time. Twenty-six people are currently serving three-month and six-month prison sentences for peacefully crossing onto the base during last November?s convergence.

This weekend featured musicians and speakers from North and Latin America, including The Indigo Girls. Today was the largest gathering yet to close the SOA/WHISC; attributed to growing criticism of the war on terrorism, coupled with concern over turmoil in Latin America this past year involving SOA grads (e.g. the failed coup in Venezuela, the deteriorating human rights situation in Colombia).

?Bush said we must uproot every known terrorist training camp,? said Abi Miller (23, Harrisonburg, VA), one of the 26 presently in prison, ?We?re shining a light on one that?s operating with impunity in our backyard.?

The annual gathering marks the anniversary of the 1989 assassination of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter in El Salvador by SOA grads. 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 WHISC to replace SOA. The renaming was widely viewed as an attempt to diffuse criticism and 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 training and influencing Latin American militaries, remains the same.

?The SOA is part of a corporate-hijacked foreign policy that?s making us a lot of enemies,? said Fr. Roy Bourgeois, founder of SOA Watch. ?If we want lasting peace and security we need a foreign policy that reflects our values of justice, democracy and dignity.?