Human Rights Advocates Face Six Months in Federal Prison for Nonviolent Direct Action Opposing the School of the Americas (SOA/ WHINSEC) Print

Trials Against Opponents of the Controversial Military Training School Begin in Columbus, Georgia on Monday, January 26

Trials Against Opponents of the Controversial Military Training School Begin in Columbus, Georgia on Monday, January 26

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On Monday, January 26, 2009, six human rights advocates will begin federal trials for carrying the protest against the School of the Americas onto the Fort Benning military base in Georgia. This school, re-named the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, is a controversial U.S. Army training school for Latin American soldiers. Each person faces up to six months in prison and a $5,000 fine for this act of nonviolent civil disobedience.

The 6 were among the tens of thousands who gathered on November 22-23, 2008 outside the gates of Fort Benning, Georgia to demand a change in U.S.-Latin America foreign policy and the closure of the School of the Americas (SOA/WHINSEC). The group peacefully crossed onto Ft. Benning in memory of those killed by graduates of the institution.

The “SOA 6” are:

Sr. Diane Pinchot, OSU, from Cleveland, Ohio
Theresa Cusimano, Denver, Colorado
Father Luis Barrios, from North Bergen, NJ
Al Simmons, from Richmond, Virginia
Louis Wolf, from Washington, DC
Kristen Holm, from Chicago, Illinois

The SOA/WHINSEC, a military training facility for Latin American security personnel located at Fort Benning, Georgia, made headlines in 1996 when the Pentagon released training manuals used at the school that advocated torture, extortion and execution. In spite of an aggressive international PR campaign and lobbying efforts on behalf of WHINSEC, support for the institute continues to erode. With over thirty-five Representatives who voted to continue funding the SOA/WHINSEC losing their seats in Congress on November 2008, human rights advocates have their sights set on pressuring the new Congress to permanently shut down the school in 2009. The last vote to defund the SOA/WHINSEC, in 2007, lost by a margin of only six votes.

The trial at the Federal Court in Columbus, Georgia will begin at 9am before Judge G. Mallon Faircloth, known for handing down stiff sentences to SOA/WHINSEC opponents. Since protests against the SOA/WHINSEC began 19 years ago, 237 people have served prison sentences of up to two years for nonviolent civil disobedience.

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