More Than 12,000 Gather to Demand Closure of the ?School of Assassins? Print
Columbus, GA ? Today more than 12,000 people from across the Americas?including Susan Sarandon and Sr. Helen Prejean?gathered at the gates of Fort Benning, Georgia to call for the closure of the School of the Americas, a combat-training facility for Latin American security personnel whose graduates continue to be implicated in human rights abuses against civilian populations throughout Latin America. In 2001, the school was renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation or WHINSEC.

The gathering will culminate tomorrow morning with a solemn ?funeral? procession to the gates of Fort Benning led by actor Martin Sheen. Many will negotiate a barbed-wire fence to enter the military base in an act of nonviolent civil disobedience, risking federal prison sentences. Since protests against SOA/ WHINSEC began more than a decade ago, over 170 people have served federal prison sentences of up to 2 years.

Today actor Susan Sarandon and Sr. Helen Prejean, the author of Dead Man Walking who Sarandon portrayed in the film of the same name, addressed the massive crowd. Citing the need for a renewed emphasis on human rights, the two called for the closure of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, formerly known as the School of the Americas.

?Like many of its graduates, this school continues to operate with impunity,? said Carlos Mauricio, torture survivor, plaintiff in a successful lawsuit against two Salvadoran Generals living in the US and a featured speaker this weekend. ?Shutting down the SOA once and for all would send a strong human rights message to Latin America and the world.?

SOA/ WHINSEC graduates return to their countries to utilize their training domestically and are consistently cited for atrocities against their own people. Despite having been investigated by the United Nations for ordering the shooting of 16 indigenous peasants in El Salvador, a massacre recorded in the US State Department?s Human Rights Record Country Reports, Col. Francisco del Cid Diaz returned to WHINSEC in 2003.

Tomorrow?s program will feature music and speakers from Latin and North America, including Martin Sheen, Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls and Bob King, Vice President of the United Auto Workers International.