Published on Friday, June 9, 2000 in the San Francisco Chronicle
War Hero Sent To Prison For Protesting US Army's 'School of Assassins'
Vet says protest against military school has been an `act of conscience'
by Michael Taylor
A federal judge sentenced Charles Liteky, a former Army chaplain
and war hero turned lifelong demonstrator, to the maximum sentence of one
year in prison yesterday, a term Liteky said he welcomed as a way of drawing
attention to his cause.
Standing at the lectern in a Columbus, Ga., courtroom, 69-year- old Liteky, who lives part-time in San Francisco, read a 10-minute statement to U.S. District Judge Hugh Lawson. The judge leaned forward and listened intently, clearly interested in hearing why one of 147 living recipients of the Medal of Honor would willingly spend a year of his life in prison.
Liteky got his one-year sentence and a fine of $10,000 for two counts of illegally trespassing at Fort Benning, the sprawling Army infantry post that is home to the controversial School of the Americas, a training facility for Latin American military officers.
Liteky and other critics charge that many of the school's graduates have been responsible for massacres of peasants and human rights workers in Central and South America.
``I consider it an honor to be going to prison as a result of an act of conscience in response to a moral imperative that impelled and obligated me to speak for voices silenced by graduates of the School of the Americas, a military institution that has brought shame to our country and the U.S. Army,'' Liteky told Lawson.
Under terms of the sentence, Liteky, who is not in custody, will be notified by mail within six weeks about which federal prison he should report to. He said yesterday that he suspects he will be sent to Lompoc in Southern California.
Liteky's years of protesting and his occasional appearances before federal judges -- he did six months in prison 10 years ago for the same offense -- might well be overlooked had he not received the nation's highest award for bravery in combat. He then became one of only two of the 3,410 recipients of the Medal of Honor to give it back, again as an act of protest.
Liteky was awarded the medal (under the name of Angelo J. Liteky) for saving the lives of 23 soldiers during a fierce firefight in Vietnam in December 1967. At the time, he was a Catholic priest and was serving in the Army as a chaplain. He has since resigned from his religious order.
During the one-hour court session in Columbus, Lawson told Liteky that he did not understand ``the connection between what is going on at the School of the Americas and this court.''
Liteky said after sentencing that he intends to write Lawson from prison ``because I want him to understand that connection.''
``We're doing acts of civil disobedience in the tradition of our democracy,'' he said. ``This has been going on for a long time. And in going to prison, I'm drawing attention to the issue. I'm happy with his ruling.''
Liteky's wife, Judy, a former nun, joined him in court yesterday. ``My main reason for being here,'' she said later, ``was to be with Charlie. The sentence is longer than I thought it would be, so I'm going to have to take some time to get used to a whole year.''
Correspondent Jason Miczek in Georgia contributed to this report.
©2000 San Francisco Chronicle