WASHINGTON - April 2 - The Nashville Chapter of the School of Americas Watch will stage a public march protesting the School of Americas and the incarceration of Rev. Don Beisswenger this Sunday, April 4th.
Rev. Beisswenger, who is a retired professor of Divinity at Vanderbilt University, was sentenced to the maximum punishment of six months in federal prison and a fine of $1,000 for the charge of federal trespass. Rev. Beisswenger, 73, crossed over onto federal lands at Ft. Benning, Georgia, during a protest against the School of Americas last November. According to Beisswenger, the trespass was intended as an act of civil disobedience.
In his farewell letter, Rev. Beisswenger urged us all to "Pray for our nation that it may recover its commitment to liberty and justice for all."
The protest event will commence this Sunday in East Nashville at 3pm with a march from St. Ann's Episcopal Church on Woodlawn Avenue at 5th street to the courthouse and then to the Nashville federal building, where, at 4pm, speakers will address the subject of the School of Americas and Rev. Beisswenger's incarceration.
Benjamin Kite, an SOA Watch Nashville volunteer and coordinator for the event, commented, "It's bad enough that we find we must engage in warfare as a nation, but to train foreign troops at taxpayers' expense to murder and subjugate Latin Americans- that is simply wicked and unjust."
"The human rights abuses and drug trafficking carried out by these graduates are a stark contrast to the US's stated commitment to democracy and human rights in the region," said Jeanne Rewa, an organizer for the event and volunteer for the Nashville Chapter of SOA Watch.
In its more than 50 years of operation, the School of Americas, or SOA, has trained more than 60,000 Latin American troops in psychological operations, interrogation, sniper-style assassinations, commando assaults and other brutal martial activities. The graduates of the school then return to Latin America and use these skills to target their fellow countrymen, including labor organizers, religious workers, students, professors, and those who stand up for the rights of the impoverished. While the total number of people killed by graduates of the SOA, often dubbed the "School of Assassins" is not clear, the graduates are blamed for the torture and/or murder of more than 1,000 men, women and children.
The School of the Americas has recently been renamed to "Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation", or WHISC, but the compound continues to serve the same purpose: to provide warfare training for Latin American soldiers.
SOA Watch is a Washington, D.C.-based national watchdog organization dedicated to closing the WHISC institute through nonviolent means.
The activities of the WHISC institute were the subject of some conjecture until September of 1996, when the training manuals of the school were declassified from their original "secret" classification. What the training manuals documented was appalling to many, outlining explicit brutal warfare and torture methodology.