School of the Americas Protest: Thousands Attend Annual Military School Protest
Published on Sunday, November 17, 2002 by the Associated Press
School of the Americas Watch
Thousands Attend Annual Military School Protest
by Elliott Minor

COLUMBUS, Ga. -- More than 90 people, including at least 6 nuns, were arrested for marching onto Fort Benning grounds Sunday during an annual protest of a U.S. military program that trains Latin American soldiers.

"I feel anger at the deliberate teaching of violence," said Caryl Hartjes, a nun from Fondulac, Wisc., as she entered the compound. "I don't feel anger at the military who will put handcuffs on me."

Five Roman Catholic nuns march and carry crosses on Sunday, Nov. 17, 2002, during a demonstration in Columbus, Ga., against a school at nearby Fort Benning that trains Latin American soldiers. From right are, Dorothy Pagosa of St. Mary in the Woods, Ind., 48; Rita Clare Gerardot, 76, of Chicago; Joann Quinker, of Oaklawn, Ill.; Kathleen Long of Chicago; and Cathleen Jessick, of Chicago. All five risked jail by by stepping Fort Benning property to protest. (AP Photo/Elliott Minor)
About 6,500 protesters gathered for the 13th annual demonstration by the School of the Americas Watch, which continues to protest the Nov. 19, 1989 killings of six Jesuit priests in El Salvador. Protesters said they demonstrate because some of the people responsible for the killings were trained at the military school.

Demonstrators passed through gates, including one where they cut the padlock and slipped through fenceposts to gain access onto the property.

Inside, a line of military police guided protesters up a hill where they were arrested, a federal offense that carries up to six months in prison.

"This decision to go in is a spontaneous thing. There was no planning," said Bill Quigley, a lawyer representing the protesters. "We're here to support the voices that are trying to make our country's international actions more just."

Demonstrators carried American flags and crosses honoring the alleged victims of the abuses in Latin America. Three protesters carried a mock-coffin draped in black. Others wore shirts that said "No War in Iraq."

"I don't want to give up my freedom and I would enjoy peace and justice more, but as a person of faith, I can't stand back and watch the atrocities," said Dorothy Pagosa, a 48-year-old nun, as she was being arrested. "The atrocities that have happened have brought shame on this country."

About 7,000 protesters took part last year, including 31 who entered the post illegally.

The Army's School of the Americas was replaced last year by a new institution operated by the Department of Defense and supervised by an independent 13-member board that includes lawmakers, scholars, diplomats and religious leaders.

Officials say the new school, known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, still trains Latin American soldiers, but also focuses on civilian and diplomatic affairs. Human rights courses are mandatory.

Protest leaders say the change was only cosmetic, and they have promised to continue the demonstrations.

Copyright 2002 Associated Press