29 Human Rights Advocates Report to Federal Prisons Today for Nonviolent Civil Disobedience Actions Print
Washington, DC ? Twenty nine human rights advocates from around the United States will report to federal prisons today to begin serving sentences of one to six months for their acts of nonviolent civil disobedience opposing the controversial U.S. Army?s School of the Americas (SOA/ WHINSEC). The 29 ? ranging in age from 19 to 81 ? are among 37 people arrested at the Fort Benning military base in November of 2005 and later sentenced in a federal court. They join four others already serving prison time for the same action.

?People speaking out for justice and accountability go to prison this week,? said Fr. Roy Bourgeois, founder of SOA Watch, ?while the SOA and its graduates continue to operate outside a system of real accountability.?

The SOA, now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, made headlines in 1996 when the Pentagon released training manuals used at the school that advocated torture, extortion and execution. Despite this admission and hundreds of documented human rights abuses connected to soldiers trained at the school, no independent investigation into the facility has ever taken place. New research confirms that the school continues to support known human rights abusers. Despite having been investigated by the United Nations for ordering the shooting of 16 indigenous peasants in El Salvador, Col. Francisco del Cid Diaz returned to SOA/ WHINSEC in 2003.

Last month, Argentina and Uruguay sent a strong message of support for human rights and military accountability by ceasing all military training of their troops at the controversial school. The two South American countries become the second and third to announce a cessation of training at the SOA/ WHINSEC. In January of 2004, Hugo Chavez announced that Venezuela would no longer send troops.

The decisions of the South American countries and the harsh prison sentences of the 29 come at a critical time in the campaign to close the U.S. Army institution. Legislation introduced last year by Rep. McGovern (D-MA) that would suspend activities at the SOA/ WHINSEC and call for a review of foreign military training in Latin America will come to the floor for a vote as early as May. The bill currently has 128 bi-partisan co-sponsors.

Last November 19,000 people gathered at the gates of Ft. Benning, home of the SOA/ WHINSEC, to call for the closure of the school. The annual Vigil has grown from a dozen people in November of 1990 to last year?s record numbers. The gathering culminated in a symbolic funeral procession commemorating those who have died at the hands of graduates of the school. The 29 ? including Delmar Schwaller, an 81-year-old World War II veteran ?- peacefully crossed onto the Fort Benning military base and were arrested. See below for list of adjudicated defendants.

SOA Watch, founded in 1990, is a national, grassroots, faith- and conscience-based organization committed to nonviolence. SOA Watch has held a demonstration at the main entrance to Ft. Benning each November since 1990 calling for the closure of the training facility.

Final Sentences

Setenced to one month in prison:
Anika Cunningham, 26, Bowling Green, Ohio (and $500 fine)

Sentenced to two months in prison:
Joanne Cowan, 56, Boulder, Colorado ($500 fine)
Sam Foster, 70, Minneapolis, Minnesota ($500 fine)
Michael Gayman, 26, Davenport, Iowa ($500 fine)
Rita Hohenshell, 81, Des Moines, Iowa
Dorothy Parker, 76, Chico, California
Judith Ruland, 47, Springfield, Massachusetts ($500 fine)
Delmar Schwaller, 81, Appleton, Wisconsin

Sentenced to three months in prison:
Buddy Bell, 23, Chicago, Illinois ($500 fine)
Fred Brancel, 79, Madison, Wisconsin ($500 fine)
Robert Call, 72, Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey
Stephen Clemens, 55,Minneapolis, Minnesota ($500 fine)
Scott Dempsky, 30, Denmark, Wisconsin ($500 fine)
Joe DeRaymond, 55, Freemansburg, Pennsylvania ($500 fine)
Sarah Harper, 36, Emeryville, California ($500 fine)
Robin Lloyd, 67, Burlington, Vermont ($500 fine)
Linda Mashburn, 63, Brevard, North Carolina ($500 fine)
Liam O?Rielly, 22, Portland, Maine ($250 fine)
Gail Phares, 66, Raleigh, North Carolina (no fine)
Donte Smith, 19, Washington, DC ($500 fine)
Cheryl Sommers, 68, Berkeley, California ($500 fine)
David Sylvester, 54, Oakland, California ($500 fine)
Frank Woolever, 72, Syracuse, New York

Sentenced to 162 days in prison:
Fr. Louis Vitale, 73, San Francisco, California (already serving sentence)

Sentenced to six months in prison:
Ken Crowley, Washington, DC ($1,000 fine)
Jane Hosking, 37, Luck, Wisconsin ($1,000 fine)
John LaForge, 41, Luck, Wisconsin ($1,000 fine)
Sr. Mary Dennis Lentsch, 69, Oak Ridge, Tennessee
Edward "Naed" Smith, 38, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
Fr. Jerome Zawada, 68,Cedar Lake, Indiana

Sentenced to 12 months probation:
Charles Carney, 47, Kansas City, Kansas ($500 fine)
Jamie Walters, 41, Columbia, Missouri ($1,000 fine)

Sentenced to time served (after 72 days in county jail):
Priscilla Treska, 66, Cleveland, Ohio

Convicted, awaiting sentencing:
Jonathan Robert, Georgia

Convicted in November at arraignment, currently serving sentences:
Christine Gaunt, Grinnell, Iowa, six months
Don Nelson, Summertown, Tennessee, 90 days

Click here to read more about these defendants.