Court Rules Terror Fears do not Justify Unconstitutional Searches at Annual SOA Watch Demonstration Print
Washington, DC ? The Eleventh Circuit Court ruled yesterday that a search policy instituted after September 11, 2001 for use during the annual School of the Americas Watch (SOA Watch) protest at Fort Benning, Georgia is unconstitutional. In a unanimous decision, the Court wrote that the search policy violates both the First and Fourth Amendments.

The Court ruled that protestors may not be required to pass through metal detectors when they gather this November 20 and 21 for their annual rally and vigil calling for the closure of the US Army?s School of the Americas (SOA), renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC).

?This is a groundbreaking decision and a triumph of free speech rights over ungrounded fears,? said Gerry Weber, legal director for the Georgia American Civil Liberties Union and SOA Watch counsel. Weber heralded the ruling as a victory for civil liberties. ?The court recognized that mass searches without rhyme or reason are never permitted.?

In November of 2002, a week before SOA Watch?s annual gathering at the gates of Fort Benning, the city of Columbus instituted a policy requiring anyone who wished to participate in the SOA Watch vigil to submit to a metal detector search at a checkpoint staffed by Columbus police.

The School of the Americas/ WHINSEC is a military training school located at Fort Benning, Georgia where over 60,000 Latin American soldiers have been trained in courses including counterinsurgency, sniper training, psychological warfare and interrogation techniques. Graduates of the school have been consistently linked to human rights violations and to the suppression of popular movements in Central and South America.

SOA Watch, a national grassroots organization that works to close the SOA/ WHINSEC and to change U.S. foreign policy, has held a demonstration at the main entrance to Fort Benning each November since 1990 calling for the closure of the training facility.

?We have seen an erosion of civil liberties during the past three years,? said SOA Watch founder Rev. Roy Bourgeois. ?This ruling by the Eleventh Circuit Court is a victory not only for these rights, but for the US Constitution.?