Maryknoll Sister Released from Prison Print
Maryknoll, New York - Maryknoll Sister Lelia "Lil" Mattingly gave up her freedom for a cause: closure of the former School of the Americas.

Sr. Lil was one of 15 non-violent protestors arrested and charged with trespass last November at the largest demonstration since the Vietnam war era: the School of the Americas (SOA) Protest. A record 16,000 people attended that two-day demonstration calling for the closure of the controversial training facility.

The School of the Americas, located at Fort Benning, GA, is now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), which trains Latin American soldiers in counterinsurgency methods. But according to Maryknoll Father Roy Bourgeois, founder of the School of the Americas Watch, methods learned by the soldiers are taken home and used in political assassinations and the torture and massacre of their own people to suppress dissent.

Several of the worst human rights violators in Latin America, such as Hugo Banzer of Bolivia, Manuel Noriega of Panama, the assassins of Archbishop Oscar Romero, four churchwomen and six Jesuits, their housekeeper and her daughter in El Salvador, were graduates of the SOA.

Mattingly was sentenced to six months at the Danbury Federal Correctional Facility in Danbury, Conn. She was arrested when she crossed onto the property of the Fort Benning, Ga., home of WHINSEC, calling for the school's closure.

After her release, she was greeted by a cheering group of more than 100 Sisters at the Maryknoll Sisters Center in Ossining on September 12.

"I like the image which a friend gave to me of a pebble being thrown into a lake," Sr. Lil said. "One of the ripples which I think came from our non-violent resistance at the SOA/WHINSEC was to create some awareness of the cause."

"Many people in this country," says Mattingly, "still do not know about the facility as it is still a best-kept secret of U.S. policy."

Sr. Lil says her experience in prison changed her in several ways, not the least of which was a deepening of her faith.

"There was an overwhelming sense of powerlessness which helped me call on God to take hold of me and the situations which I could not control, but our incarceration gives momentum to our cause when speaking with members of congress about our concerns."

The next SOA/WHINSEC protest is scheduled for November 18 to 20. Will Mattingly risk arrest again?

"I am not planning to do it again as far as crossing the line at Fort Benning, however, because of the continuing reports from Latin America of abuses by military men trained at the SOA/WHINSEC, and because of the continuing degradation of U.S. foreign policies which have led us into an immoral, illegal, pre-emptive war on the people of Iraq, my conscience may lead me to challenge this drive to power and control of others' natural resources.

"We know that the SOA has taught torture in the past, and when we realize that what happened at the Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo prisons is endemic to what is learned in the military, then there is a need to voice our outrage at what is being taught and done in our name."