Taking the SOA to Trial - the SOA Watch 15 Print

White House ActionFifteen human rights advocates are scheduled to go on trial on Monday, September 12, 2011 for engaging in nonviolent direct action at the White House in Washington, DC. The “White House 27,” a group of human rights advocates who staged a die-in on the White House sidewalk on April 10, 2011, to call on President Obama to shut down the notorious School of the Americas (renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation) and to put an end to the U.S. militarization of the Americas. The 15 defendants are facing the criminal charges of “failure to obey a lawful order” and “blocking and incommoding.” Despite facing a criminal trial, the human rights advocates are not intimidated.

The defendants plan to use their trial to shed light on the past and present history of US militarization and economic domination of Latin America, and to repeat the call to President Obama to shut down the School of the Americas by executive order. Read their stories...

The SOA Watch 15 are:

Alice Gerard, NY
Ann Tiffany, NY
Chris Gaunt, IA
David Barrows, DC
Ed Kinane, NY
Eve Tetaz, DC
Jack Gilroy, NY
Judith Kelly, VA
Maia Rodriguez, VA
Megan Felt, IA
Nico Udu-gama, DC
Paki Wieland, MA
Priscilla Treska, OH
Sarah Sommers, OH
Scott Wright, DC

Jack GilroyJack Gilroy, 76, of Endwell, New York, has spent much of his life fighting the military/corporate/media/church/political/educational system from both inside and outside.

Jack joined the military while still in high school; later, he was trained to kill by the U.S. Army Infantry. He was awarded four years in college for agreeing to kill for his government anywhere he was sent (He never did kill). Later, as a high school teacher, Jack urged male students to consider conscientious objection, but five of his students came home in body bags and others returned broken in mind, body, and spirit.

After several decades of rattling the cage of the system, Jack retired to write and to do legislative work with the SOA Watch legislative team (hundreds of visits to the lawmakers on the Hill). He has helped to facilitate workshops in D.C and Columbus for SOA Watch. He also wrote two university press-published novels about young men who refused government orders to train to kill. Recently, Jack has been writing plays to highlight the treachery of the system. Two have been performed in Georgia at our annual event.

Now, Jack is looking for small theater or college (preferably Jesuit) to produce his most recent play: The Predator.

Jack and his wife have led a group called Frutas! for the past sixteen years. Frutas! began as an economic assistance program to the poor on a hill side colonia near Cuernavaca, Mexico. It began with the planting of fruit trees and, in 1999, education became the central focus. Since then, Frutas! has been able to keep children in school beyond the sixth grade, the year that most children drop out to try to find work.

Jack is one of the few SOA Watch prisoners of conscience who was treated to “Diesel Therapy” (the U.S. government’s process of gradual moving chained prisoners to a variety of institutions, including jails, courts, and prisons) in the federal injustice system. In his case, he toured, via prisoner transport, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.

Priscilla TreskaPriscilla Treska, of Clevand, OH: I am 72 years old, a wife (married 53 years on September 13th), mother of fifteen children, and grandmother of twenty-two, and great-grandmother of five with a sixth great-grandchild due in December. I am a retired Montessori teacher. As a committed Catholic, I now teach children in three of our parish programs. My life has been dedicated to caring for children, and for me, my protest against SOA/WHINSEC is very much about children. When I realized that so many children had been massacred by graduates of SOA/WHINSEC, I was determined to join those who were committed to closing that infamous school. I wrote hundreds of letters and visited Congress people in my attempt to close it. In November of 2005, I finally went onto the site of SOA/WHINSEC at Fort Benning, to pray for an end to SOA/WHINSEC. I was promptly arrested and spent 72 days in Muscogee County Jail as a result of my peacefully praying on Fort Benning property. The following October (2006), I went with a Witness for Peace delegation to Colombia. We went to San Onofre in the Montes de Maria area. There we spoke to many of the people about the violence they experienced daily as a result of U.S. militarization there. The United States gives aid to Colombia in the ratio of 80 percent military aid and only 20 percent humanitarian aid. So many people there pleaded for the United States to change that to just the opposite. The people begged us to take this message to those who make our foreign policy. I have felt frustrated and unable to tell this to those who make U.S. policy. Taking part in this witness at the White House was an attempt to deliver this message.

David BarrowsDavid O.H. Barrows, of Washington, D.C.: I was fortunate enough to have become acquainted with two very different people in the early 1970s. One had been an officer in the Green Berets stationed in Panama at the School of the Americas. He recounted passing around photographs of Che Gevara, who had just been assassinated deep in the jungles of Bolivia. He also told me of a technique that he had learned there of how to induce a heart attack by injecting a bubble of oxygen into the blood stream, thus leaving no trace of the murderer. He also told me about foolproof methods of performing break ins. At the same time, I had a roommate, who was the son of a much respected ambassador from Argentina to the United States from the days of Juan Peron, and he told me about the disappearances committed by the recently installed junta. He had lost several friends, including his first love. Thanks to these friends, I was able to believe the documentary I was to see many years later about the renamed School of the Americas. I have gone several times to protest the SOA at Fort Benning's gates in Georgia. I have spent time listening to accounts from survivors at TASSC (Torture Abolition and Survivor Support Network) and speaking with those survivors. That is where I met Sister Dianna Ortiz and her friend, anti-torture lawyer Jennifer Harbury. I have been arrested many times peacefully protesting war, torture, and crimes against the environment.

I am a writer and artist living in Washington, D.C. I am grateful to all those who refuse to ignore the world's great wrongs.

Christine GauntChristine Gaunt, of Grinnell, Iowa is a grandmother, peacemaker, writer, and vegan hog farmer.

For the past eighteen months, Chris did a weekly NO MORE $$$ FOR WAR die-in in the Des Moines offices of her senators.

Chris has been sentenced to jail twice for nonviolently crossing the line at the SOA vigil at Ft. Benning. She traveled to Afghanistan with Voices for Creative Nonviolence last March.

Chris is moving to Freedom Plaza, Washington, D.C., on October 6 [www.October2011.org] with her backpack, tent, and a sleeping bag.

NicoNico Udu-gama, of Washington, D.C.: I first started learning that something new was happening in Latin America years after the Zapatista uprising in Mexico, and around the time of the eviction of the U.S. Navy from the tiny island of Vieques, Puerto Rico. I traveled through Mexico and Central America and finally ended up spending close to four years in Colombia.  There, I worked with people in farmer communities who were being systematically tortured, disappeared, displaced and massacred so that, at the end of the day, big businesses could thrive. I witnessed with my own eyes how the SOA has been a key pillar of U.S. intervention and destabilization in Latin America.  Now, with U.S. capitalism in crisis, we're seeing a final effort to contain popular resistance at home and abroad. But alternatives are emerging, and the resistance is growing -- from immigrant rights to prison abolition to resistance against the coup in Honduras and the U.N occupation in Haiti. We are the change from below. Our actions at the White House are a small gesture of solidarity with the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean -- SOMOS UNA AMÉRICA!

Sarah SommersSarah Sommers, 30, of Cleveland, Ohio: Currently I organize and advocate for human rights in  Colombia and Central America as co-director of Cleveland's Interreligious Task Force on Central America. My first introduction to Latin America and issues of oppression and solidarity came on a delegation to Nicaragua in 2000. Since then, I have traveled to Central America numerous times, including spending one month this summer in Guatemala. What it all comes back to for me are the faces of the people that I have met, their humanity. It leaves me asking the question, how can we as human beings try to take away the humanity of another?

In addition to Latin America solidarity work, I am involved in the Cleveland Catholic Worker Community  and am a “mentee” in the Word and World Mentoring Program. My current focus is on sexual identity and nonviolent resistance to the empire modeled after the Way of Jesus of Nazareth and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Ed KinaneSyracuse, New York’s Ed Kinane’s political awakening began in 1969 when he hitchhiked through Central America and saw how the Mayan people there were forced to live. In 1988/89, during the Central American civil wars, he worked for a year with Peace Brigades International in Guatemala and El Salvador. In those war-torn countries, PBI provided international protective accompaniment to human rights workers targeted by death squads.

In 1994, Ed fasted for 40 days on the steps of the Capitol with SOA Watch. He has since gone to federal prison twice for nonviolent direct actions against the School of the Americas at Fort Benning. In 2003, Ed spent five months in Iraq with the Peace Team of Voices in the Wilderness (now Voices for Creative Nonviolence). This past summer, he spent a month in Kabul, Afghanistan, with Voices for Creative Nonviolence.

Currently, besides SOA Watch, Ed is active working against the Reaper Drone which is piloted over Afghanistan from Hancock Air Base near Syracuse.

Ann TiffanyAnn Tiffany, of Syracuse, New York, spent the eighties active in the Sanctuary movement (focused primarily on Salvadoran refugees). Since the early nineties, Ann has been active with Syracuse’s sister community of La Estancia, a remote mountain community in El Salvador. She also help found a sister community relationship with Cajibio, Colombia, another struggling rural community. Ann has journeyed to El Salvador and Colombia numerous times. In 1998, she spent six months in Danbury federal prison for “crossing the line” at Fort Benning. She continues with SOA Watch solidarity work.

For many years, Ann has been active with the Syracuse Peace Council and with local Latin America organizing, as well as with educational work on behalf of the people of Israel and Palestine. She is also active in the upstate New York campaign against the Reaper Drone.

Judith KellyJudith Kelly, of Arlington, Virginia, is a nonviolent activist and longtime member of Pax Christi USA.  She facilitates trainings in the spirituality and practice of active nonviolence with Pace e Bene Nonviolence Service. She has participated in many nonviolent civil resistance actions with Pax Christi, Nevada Desert Experience, School of the Americas Watch, and Witness against Torture.

In 2003, she served a three-month federal prison sentence at Alderson, West Virginia, for a misdemeanor trespass onto the grounds of Fort Benning, Georgia, home of the U.S. Army School of the Americas/WHINSEC.  She has participated in human rights delegations to Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Colombia, Haiti, Chile, and most recently, Afghanistan (March 2011).  She served in Peru and Paraguay with the U.S. Peace Corps, and she lived for a year in Mexico as a Rotary Exchange student.

Maia Rodriguez SullivanMaia Rodriguez Sullivan, of Arlington, Virginia, was born in Cochabamba, Bolivia, where her parents worked as Maryknoll lay missioners.  She grew up in Venezuela and was there during the 2002 attempted coup. She organized a delegation to Venezuela to observe the reality of the situation in the Bolivarian Revolution, which was skewed by the U.S. media.

Maia graduated from Earlham College, a small liberal arts Quaker school, with a Psychology major. She is a part of the Activantes, a movement within SOA Watch created by interns in South America who found the description “pasante” (the Spanish word for intern) did not do justice to the work that the young people are committed to.

Maia also participated in the planning of last summer's Encuentro, and she traveled to Colombia to participate in the Women's Summit as a follow up to the Encuentro.

Eve TetazEve Tetaz, of Washington, D.C.: I am a retired educator with several decades of experience teaching overseas, as well as in New York City and Washington, D.C.  Although I protested against the Vietnam War and was part of a successful class action suit against the government for my 36-hour incarceration in the D.C. central cell block during the 1960s, I did not actively become involved in the anti-war movement until 2005.  A torture survivor invited me to participate in the annual TASSAC protest held in D.C.  Since 2005, I have been involved in the peace and justice movement and have been arrested on several occasions for exercising my constitutional right to speak out against the wars and the U.S. violation of human rights as evidenced by SOA activities, the use of drones in the “war against terrorism,” the existence of Guantanamo and Bagram prisons, and the use of tactics of torture and methods of “enhanced interrogation and rendition, all of which are violations of my belief that all life is equally precious and no human is ever to be regarded as collateral damage.

Alice GerardAlice Gerard, of Grand Island, New York, is a gardener, writer, artist, and recovering journalist. She first became interested in Latin American issues when, as a college senior in a Washington Semester program in 1978, she was assigned to write a research paper on the Panama Canal treaties, which were then being negotiated by President Jimmy Carter. The story of intrigue and misadventure on the part of the U.S. government, military, and media fascinated Alice, and she has followed Latin American issues ever since. In 1987, Alice attended language school in Guatemala, where she met Sister Dianna Ortiz, who was a fellow student. In the 1990s, Alice participated in the U.S. premier of Scottish composer James MacMillan’s composition for choir and organ, Cantos Sagrados, with Buffalo’s Opera Sacra. Cantos Sagrados, a musical exploration of political repression in Latin America, is based on poems by Ariel Dorfman and Ana Maria Mendoza, along with sacred text.

From 2004 to 2007, Alice served three terms for a total of fifteen months in the federal prison camp in Danbury, Connecticut, for crossing the Fort Benning fence. Since then, she has devoted much energy to peace walks, including the 2008 Witness against War Walk from Chicago to Saint Paul, Minnesota, and the 2010 Walk for a Nuclear Free Future from Salamanca, New York, to the United Nations. In 2011, Alice spent nine weeks in Ecuador. She attended language school in Quito and volunteered at an organic reforestation project in northern Ecuador.

Megan FeltMegan Felt, 24, of the Des Moines Catholic Worker, Des Moines, Iowa: A few years back, I was blessed with the opportunity to travel to Colombia. While there, I volunteered my time with an organization called Comisión Intereclesial de Justicia y Paz. They sent my partner David and me on a thirty-hour bus ride over the mountains to the northwest corner of the country that spoons Panama, the region of Urabá. There we found Afro-descendent communities nonviolently taking back their land from paramilitary protected cattle and palm corporations. They spent days cutting and burning the thick African Palm oil trees, with the armed palm businessmen a mile down the road, in hopes to be able to farm the land in a few years for subsistence. They had been violently displaced in the late 1990s by the 17th Brigade of the Colombian Army, led by Rito Alejo del Río, a graduate of the SOA. We accompanied the communities in their life and struggle for a month, with U.S.-made weapons pointing in our direction and more sternly at the community leaders, whenever we left the community boundaries. In that short month of turmoil, a deep love grew in my heart for those individuals and their fight to maintain their life with the land. I have returned twice since then and have spent much of my academic career studying their struggle and advocating for their cause by recording their testimonies.

I call for the closing of the SOA and all U.S. military training centers and bases throughout Latin America and the world, because I believe that we are spreading our military might and “intelligence,” only to control the work force and natural resources of the planet. No sentient being was created to live in the oppression and agony that we have put on other human and animal cultures, and it is our duty as constituents of our military, corporate government to live working to end the oppression. My protest against the SOA is not out of anger or despair, but from great love for my brothers and sisters in Urabá and the world.

I would especially like to hold up sister Liría Rosa García, a survivor of the 1996 displacements and massacres in Curvaradó, Urabá. Liría fearlessly speaks and lives the truth for the future of her family, community, and territory. She has been a leader in the land reclamation struggle and thus receives daily death threats and abuses.

Paki WielandPaki Wieland, of Northampton, Massachusetts: In 1989, I was on the women's convoy to Central America. Sixty-nine women from across the United States drove supplies to Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. We traveled as a witness to women in Latin America. The women's groups we met their shared their indomitable spirit; we, in turn, brought our witness and material aid. We were in Managua for the "Tenth Anniversary of the Triumph!" People from all over the world celebrated the revolutionary successes of the Nicaraguans. I heard the beloved Ernesto Cardinal read his poetry; it was a most moving and hopeful time!

But I was on my way to a different work, I began University teaching in September 1989, and Latin America moved to the periphery of my consciousness.

Then in June of 2002, while visiting a friend in San Francisco I saw the Sunday Chronicle, where I came upon an article on Louis Vitale and Bill O'Donnell, who were going on trial in Columbus, Georgia in early July for their SOA protest.

I attended the trial, met the beautiful people on trial and their attorney, Bill Quigley. I have been committed to closing the School and in bringing friends to the SOA Watch ever since. At the Fort Benning protests, I have done peacekeeping. I also sang with the Raging Grannies at the gate, and processed with the Grandmothers for Peace.

Since then, I have been supportive of Father Roy Bourgeois’ work on behalf of the ordination of women. In advance of the April protests in Washington, D.C., I invited justice loving women to come to stand with Father Roy, who was being pressured by the Vatican to recant is stand for justice for women in the church, his “heretical” position. Not doing so has threatened him with excommunication and perhaps removal from the Maryknoll society.

Lots of women came and miraculously, two women's groups in Virginia came to the protest with white scarves. We marched behind the fourteen-foot puppet of the "Mother of the Disappeared." I am now working to bring many women who have never been to Fort Benning to come and stand with "the Mothers of the Disappeared!"

Scott WrightScott Wright, of Washington, D.C.: I have worked many years working with and advocating for victims and survivors of violence, including eight years working with the Catholic Church, accompanying refugees and displaced communities during the civil war in El Salvador. During that time I witnessed the violence of a misguided U.S. policy that funded and trained Salvadoran military officers and soldiers at the SOA. These officers and soldiers were later responsible for major massacres against the civilian population, as well as for the assassination of human rights defenders and church leaders, such as Archbishop Oscar Romero and the six Jesuit priests and the priests’ housekeeper and her daughter.

Currently, I am the education and advocacy director for TASSC International, an organization of torture survivors, whose mission is to abolish torture and to empower survivors. Most of the survivors we see are fleeing from violence in Africa. Their only crime is working for democracy, fighting corruption, or defending human rights. Many come from countries such as Ethiopia ruled by military dictatorships funded by the United States.

I also worked for many years with the Central American immigrant community in Washington, D.C. as an interpreter and an advocate for immigrant rights. I am on the national council of Pax Christi USA and a member of St. Aloysius Catholic Church in Washington D.C., where I live with my wife and daughter.