Five SOA Watch Protesters Receive Two-Month Sentences

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by
Ledger-Enquirer (Georgia)

Five SOA Watch Protesters Receive Two-Month Sentences

by
Alan Riquelmy

Kristen Holm, far left, and Theresa Cusimano, far right, stand with the Rev. Luis Barrios at the courthouse steps in Columbus as he speaks against the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, formally known as School of Americas. Six people, including the ones pictured, were accused of crossing onto Fort Benning during the SOA Watch protest in November. (Shannon Szwarcsszwarc.)

Louis Wolf was one of six protesters who trespassed onto Fort Benning.

On Monday, in U.S. District Court, he used his one remaining leg and a cane to walk to the witness stand. The 68-year-old declined Magistrate G. Mallon Faircloth's offer of the seat, instead choosing to stand and read aloud the motivations that led him to cross the line.

An hour later, he was still reading.

"I'm almost finished, your honor," Wolf said.

Twelve minutes later, he was.

The six defendants pleaded not guilty to a charge of entering military, naval or Coast Guard property and were found guilty by Faircloth. Wolf was the only one who did not receive prison time.

Defense attorney Bill Quigley told Faircloth about Wolf's medical problems and mentioned the sophisticated attention he needs regularly. Faircloth referenced a letter Wolf's daughter wrote him. She said that if Wolf was taken away from her, she couldn't live.

"She will have her wish, and you will not be taken away from her," Faircloth said.

Wolf was sentenced to six months' house arrest and a $1,000 fine. The remaining five defendants received two-month sentences, though their fines ranged from nothing to $500.

The six were accused of crossing onto Fort Benning around 9 a.m. Nov. 23 at the Interstate 185 entrance. They were stopped about a half-mile onto post.

Theresa Cusimano, 40, was the only defendant to get a $500 fine and the only one to represent herself. When she stepped up to the lectern, she set down an electric candle. Several such candles with white bases and flame-shaped bulbs were in the hands of supporters. Many lighted them as Cusimano spoke to the judge.

"Your honor, I don't want to take up the court's time," she said.

Faircloth replied, "Take what time you require. I am not paid by the hour."

Cusimano, who was the last to be sentenced, summed up the messages given by her co-defendants. She mentioned Sister Diane T. Pinchot, 63, who said she lost a sister to murder in El Salvador. Cusimano lauded the idealism of Kristin L. Holm, a 21-year-old seminary student.

And she told Faircloth about her family, who Cusimano said believe she's crazy because she chose to cross the line.

"What do I need to lift to get out of this situation? I refuse to believe that this is the best our country can offer. I refuse! We have the wrong people in the room for this conversation," Cusimano said.

She asked that instead of prison time, Faircloth sentence her to work for him and his court to ensure that the SOA Watch protest will no longer be needed. The Rev. Luis N. Barrios, 56, is bilingual, she said; Albert L. Simmons, 64, is a veteran who overcame alcoholism; Wolf has the history under his belt; Holm is a preacher; and Pinchot has the creative consciousness.

"It doesn't get much better than this," Cusimano said of the possible team.

Faircloth, however, told Cusimano he had no power to legislate the closure of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation and advised her to seek change with Congress. Fighting the school by trespassing onto Fort Benning doesn't carry much weight as civil disobedience, he said.

It was that act that many spoke of when they got the chance. Holm told Faircloth that justice couldn't be found without first finding frustration at injustice.

"And you bet I crossed the line," she said. "I crossed the line because the SOA is on the wrong side."

Pinchot, an art professor, held a sculpture she made of four woman in shallow graves as she spoke to the judge.

The sculpture was made of separate pieces and fit together in a bowl that Pinchot held with two hands as she explained each figure's story of rape and torture.

"These images don't go away from me," she said. "I believe the spirit of God has asked me to this. I'm hoping that people will listen and the School of the Americas will be closed."

Barrios, an Episcopal priest, told Faircloth prison time would not change his behavior. "Neither you nor your system will take away my dignity," he said.

Simmons said he no longer was someone with faith, but said his mother was and she taught him a Biblical message: As you do to the least of these, you do also to me.

 

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