2005 Vigil Report from the Legal Collective Print
Read more about those in prison and priosoner support.

The Members of the SOA Watch Legal Collective were privileged to provide legal support for the largest ever SOA Watch November vigil. We set up computers, printers, and legal briefings in our ramshackle Southgate apartment.

Through the broken windows we heard the moving stories of people who survived torture at the hands of SOA graduates, union organizers, and Colombian peace community leaders.

We sent out teams of legal observers to help ensure that the civil rights of vigil participants were respected. The legal observers documented the large fence limiting access to the vigil area and the checkpoints that all vigillers were required to go through. Legal observers documented police forcing people to break crosses that were deemed a few inches too long.

Forty-one people were arrested on Sunday in connection with the vigil. Thirty seven face federal charges. Of those thirty seven, thirty four were charged with crossing onto the base, two were charged with damaging the fence and one person was charged with assisting other in line crossing. Three were arrested at the Sunday evening solidarity vigil at the Muscogee county jail.

One person, Ed Lewinson, 73, a retired professor, crossed onto the base for a third time. Again this year, Mr. Lewinson was not charged, probably because the government fears the bad publicity associated with prosecuting a person who is blind. Mr. Lewinson?s courage and persistence sets an example for all of us.

On Monday morning, those facing federal charges were brought before Magistrate Judge G. Mallon Faircloth for a bond hearing and arraignment. During the hearings, the US Attorney continually referred to the defendants ?lack of respect for the law.? Among those appearing, in orange Muscogee County jail uniforms, were an 81 year old WW II veteran and former alderman, two Fransiscan priests, a Catholic nun, and a college student. They are charged with the lowest possible level violation of federal law. If convicted, they face up to six months in prison and fines.

Currently, five SOAW prisoners of conscience remain in jail*. Frs. Jerry Zawada, 68 of Indiana and Louis Vitale, 73, of San Francisco and Priscilla Treska, 66, of Cleveland Ohio refused $1,000 bond and remain in jail. One person, Christine Gaunt, 49, of Grinnell Iowa, pled guilty and received six months in prison and a $2,000 fine. Another, Don Nelson, of Summertown TN, received a sentence of 90 days in prison but will self-report to a federal prison once notified by the Bureau of Prisons. Finally, Jonathan Robert remains in custody pending resolution of outstanding charges.

By crossing the line to call for the closure of the SOA/WHINSEC they were complying with the highest laws, international laws and laws of conscience. In their actions they were demanding that our country abide by the Convention Against Torture, which was ratified by the U.S. in 1994. It states that "no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture," and that orders from superiors "may not be invoked as a justification of torture."

On January 30th, 2006 those arrested will go on trial for crossing the fence onto the base. The members of the legal collective are honored to be of service to these courageous people who are risking their freedom to uphold the highest laws and justice.

*You can write to those in custody at the following addresses:

Christine Gaunt

Muscogee County Jail
700 E. 10th St.
Columbus GA 31901-2899

Louis Vitale
Muscogee County Jail
700 E. 10th St.
Columbus GA 31901-2899

Priscilla Treska
Muscogee County Jail
700 E. 10th St.
Columbus GA 31901-2899

Jerome Zawada
Muscogee County Jail
700 E. 10th St.
Columbus GA 31901-2899

Jonathan Robert
Muscogee County Jail
700 E. 10th St.
Columbus GA 31901-2899