ja_mageia

  • Increase font size
  • Decrease font size
  • Default font size
Home Action Media Outreach Articles No Crime, But Punishment
No Crime, But Punishment PDF Print E-mail

BY ANTONIO C. CABRAL

In a Georgia courtroom on January 28, a federal judge held in his hands Jim Hynes' future; but the San Antonio Catholic priest stood before him and spoke firmly: "There's one terrorist camp we can close down right now- that's the School of the Americas."

Next came defendant Pam McBride, a local accountant: "If our country's goal is really peace, prosperity, freedom, and democracy for everyone, then we are failing," she proclaimed to the judge.

Then Judge G. Mallon Faircloth sentenced Hynes, McBride, and fellow protester Sister Moira Kenny to six months in federal prison on trespassing charges. The three were arrested last November for protesting against the infamous U.S. Army School of the Americas based inside Fort Benning, Georgia. Marilyn White of Houston was also sentenced, but couldn't be reached for an interview.

Many American and global activists know that the U.S. is training Latin-American terrorists at the SOA, located in the Georgia forest, but government officials don't want to talk about it. About 10,000 demonstrators gathered last fall at the SOA to demand its closure; of them, 82 people are going to federal prison on trespassing charges including Hyne, McBride, and Kenney.

The night before they left San Antonio for Georgia to face trial, McBride, Father Hynes, and Sister Kenny were in high spirits as they met to have a last supper with friends. Father Hynes said he hopes their arrest and confinement "will call the attention of all Americans to what's going on at that school. Most people are not aware of its existence. When nuns and priests get arrested over this, it attracts more public attention. That's the way it is. So, I hope that our sacrifice helps."

Father Hynes served in Peru before coming to San Antonio several years ago; he now serves as pastor of Our Lady of the Angels Parish on San Antonio's South Side. Sister Kenny has been a Sisters of Mercy member for more than 30 years and is a long-time human-rights activist. A graduate of Churchill High School and St. Mary's University, McBride established a successful accounting career, but eventually sold all of her material possessions to dedicate her life to the pursuit of world peace and justice.

McBride's involvement against the SOA is out of character with her experiences growing up in San Antonio. "I grew up in a household where there was never any concern over events," she explained. "Like many Americans, I believed that the U.S. really stood for justice, peace, and democracy. Later, when that illusion was shattered, I felt powerless, even cynical, about being able to impact anything."

Her view of her own life and social environment as an accountant changed when she saw a video titled "Father Roy Inside the School of the Assassins." "That video drew me. I couldn't just say, 'Yeah, isn't it awful what our government does in our name.' I couldn't just leave it alone and add to my cynicism. I had to do something."

The excessive sentence was to be expected. Judge Faircloth has a reputation of harshly punishing opponents of the SOA - derisively dubbed the School of Assassins by human rights activists. And in the post 9-11 political climate, Faircloth can justify his decisions by citing "national security." "Times have changed," he told the defendants, adding that terrorists could "infiltrate" the group pacifists. According to defense attorney Bill Quiggly, activists' efforts to close the SOA have resulted in 100 opponents serving a total of more than 50 years in prison since the peaceful campaign began.

Defense attorney John Reed complained that Judge Faircloth has turned "the concept of 'presumed innocent until proven guilty' on its head" by prohibiting the defense from presenting evidence that "the prosecution had failed to uphold the burden of proof."

For example, prosecutors claimed that the area outside the fence was part of Fort Benning property but refused to present proof.

Besides the arrests, several hundred other demonstrators have also received written notices "banning and barring" them from Fort Benning. Two San Antonians who received this ominous warning are businessperson Peggy Langen, and Sister Alice Holden, a nun with the Sisters of the Incarnate Word. In a letter dated November 18, 2001, Brigadier General Paul D. Eaton, Commander of the U.S. Army Infantry Center, Fort Benning, warned Langen that she is "excluded from the Fort for a period of five years."

The Army's School of the Americas was founded in Panama in 1946. In 1984, after the Panamanian government identified the SOA as the principal U.S. weapon for destabilization in Latin America, it kicked the school out of the country. The SOA moved to Fort Benning, Georgia, which was originally built over wooded land that had been taken by force from the Creek Indians.

After years of worldwide protests, in January 2001, the SOA became the euphemistically named Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHISC), but its training program and trainees remain the same. By any name, it has trained more than 60,000 soldiers and police from at least 150 countries, and it maintains satellite installations in many of those countries.

Among the most notorious graduates are dictators Manuel Noriega of Panama, Roberto Viola of Argentina, Juan Velasco of Peru, Guillermo Rodriguez of Ecuador, and Hugo Banzer Su?rez of Bolivia. Other lesser-known graduates include convicted assassins who murdered Archbishop Oscar Romero and massacred more than 900 civilians in El Mozote, San Salvador. After the 1994 uprising of the indigenous Ejercito Zapatista de Liberaci?n Nacional (EZLN) in Chiapas, Mexico, the SOA began training Mexican soldiers and police. These Mexican graduates are now believed to be conducting the government's low-intensity war against indigenous communities in Chiapas, Guerrero, Oaxaca, and other Mexican states.

Other SOA graduates from several countries have participated in massacres of innocent people; the organization SOA Watch (www.soaw.org) identifies those individuals by country on its Web site.

After her arrest, McBride spent two nights in Muskogee County jail. "Even then I had no regrets about my actions," she recalled. "I feel they are acts of patriotism. If my neighbors were to get a steady diet of truthful information about what our government is really doing in Mexico, in Central America and other places, then everyone would stand up and say 'Stop it!'

"I was not afraid even when Army personnel handcuffed our hands behind our back, photographed, and fingerprinted us," she added. "Then U.S. Marshals processed us again before taking us to Muskogee County Jail late on a Sunday night. It was a sight to see so many elderly nuns in leg chains and handcuffs and chains around their waists."

In jail, the male prisoners wore blue uniforms and the women were in mustard yellow. "It was a miserably cold night and very cold in the jail cell," McBride said. "There were so many arrested that women filled one entire large cell, and some of them had to be placed in a separate cell. Judge Faircloth had hit everyone with a $5,000 bail. The SOA Watch group scrambled to find the money for our bail, but I had to stay in jail two days and nights before they could post my bail."

Asked if McBride feels discouraged that her sacrifice may not produce the results she wants, she remarked, "I'm not called to be effective, I'm called to be faithful."

Is she afraid of going to federal prison? "My involvement in social justice has been a spiritual experience. If the fact that a 45-year old accountant from San Antonio goes to prison brings attention to this problem, then it's worth it."

Sister Kenny expected no mercy from the judge, as this was her fifth year protesting the SOA. "I do it in memory of the four religious women who were killed in El Salvador in 1980 by graduates of the SOA, and also because of a personal friend of mine, Jennifer Harbury," Sister Kenny explained. Harbury's husband was from Guatemala, and was allegedly "tortured for two years and then killed by graduates of SOA. I hope that more people will become aware of the SOA and will work to close that school."

While the SOA churns out cruel dictators and assassins, the U.S. government has labeled the peacemakers as criminals. "To me, it's ironic that the peaceful people who protest these atrocities go to prison while what we are protesting is allowed to continue," Sister Kenny said. "I wonder why it's a crime to walk on federal property when it's our money that keeps it up."

After the three serve their sentences, which begin this month, they plan to continue protesting the SOA. "This judge thinks that by putting people in jail he will squash the movement but it just raises more people who will join the protests," said Sister Kenny. "Like the song says, 'For everyone you take, 10 more will come'." ?

 

Sign up for action alerts and updates

SOAWLatina.org

Contact us

SOA Watch
733 Euclid Street NW
Washington, DC 20001

phone: 202-234-3440
email: info@soaw.org