WASHINGTON - January 25 - On Monday, January 29 sixteen people ranging in ages from 17 to 71 will begin federal trials for peacefully walking onto a military base in protest of a controversial Army training school. Each person faces up to six months in prison and a $5,000 fine for this act of nonviolent civil disobedience.
The sixteen were among the over 20,000 human rights activists who gathered on November 17-19 outside the gates of Ft. Benning, Georgia to demand a dramatic shift in U.S. foreign policy and the closure of the controversial U.S. Army’s School of the Americas, now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (SOA/WHINSEC). The group peacefully crossed onto Ft. Benning, site of the school, at the culmination of a symbolic funeral procession in memory of those killed by graduates of the institution.
Present at the trial will be Jennifer Harbury, author of “Truth, Torture and the American Way” (Beacon Press, 2005) and widow of Efrain Bamaca Velasquez, a Mayan resistance leader who was abducted, tortured and executed by Guatemalan graduates of the SOA/WHINSEC.
The defense attempted to call Mrs. Harbury to testify on the results of the training provided at the SOA/WHINSEC but Judge G. Mallon Faircloth denied the request.
The SOA/WHINSEC 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.
The defendants are scheduled to begin trial at 9 am on Monday morning before Judge G. Mallon Faircloth, known for handing down harsh sentences to opponents of the SOA/WHINSEC. Since protests against the SOA/WHINSEC began more than a decade ago, 211 people have served a total of over 92 years in prison for engaging in nonviolent resistance in a broad-based campaign to close the school.
The movement to close the SOA/WHINSEC continues to grow. On the weekend of November 17-19, 2006 simultaneous actions took place in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, El Salvador, Canada, Ireland, Arizona and California. In June of 2006 an amendment to cut funding to the SOA/WHINSEC and to investigate the development and use of the “torture manuals” was narrowly defeated in Congress by a margin of 15 votes. The mid-term elections saw 34 Representatives who opposed the amendment lose their seats, heightening the prospect of closing the school with a vote in the 110th Congress.
SOA Watch, founded in 1990, is a national grassroots organization committed to nonviolence.