28 Human Rights Activists to Begin Federal Trial for Civil Disobedience at Ft. Benning, GA to Close the School of the Americas (SOA/WHISC) Print
Washington D.C. ? On Monday January 26th the federal trial for the 28 human rights activists facing federal charges for civil disobedience begins in Columbus, Georgia. The 28 were among 10,000 who gathered in November to call for a closure of the SOA, renamed in 2001 the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. The defendants peacefully crossed onto Ft. Benning property, site of the school. They are charged with trespass and face up to six months in federal prison and $5,000 in fines.

All 28 defendants are scheduled to begin trial on January 26 before Judge G. Mallon Faircloth. Judge Faircloth is known for giving the maximum of six months to opponents of the SOA/WHISC. Nearly 170 people have served a total of over 75 years in prison for engaging in nonviolent resistance in a broad-based campaign to close the school.

"Those who speak out for justice are facing prison time 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 atrocities and coups, including the El Mozote Massacre of over 900 civilians and the failed coup of 2002 in Venezuela. In 1996 the Pentagon was forced to release manuals used at the school that advocated torture, extortion, and execution. In a statement about their action of conscience, several defendants state that ?[Latin American military forces] do not exist primarily to defend one nation against another, but rather to protect an unjust and inequitable distribution of resources within each country against movements of social and political change.

The movement to close the SOA/WHISC continues to grow. Democratic candidate Wesley Clark continues to face critical questions from the public concerning his connection the SOA, once under his command, and his continued support of the unpopular school. The NY Post recently released an article calling Clark?s stance, ?an issue that will likely alienate some Democratic primary voters.?

Last week at a meeting with Venezuelan president Hugo Ch?vez, SOA Watch founder Fr. Roy Bourgeois asked Ch?vez to stop sending Venezuelan military personnel to the SOA/WHISC. Chavez, who continues to be popular amongst the overwhelmingly poor population of Venezuela, made Father Roy Bourgeois a guest on his weekly TV show and announced that he is seriously considering the proposal.

SOA Watch, founded in 1990, is a national, grassroots, faith and conscience- based group committed to nonviolence. It has chapters in communities and on campuses around the country.