Cathy Webster, a grandmother living in Chico California, organized "A Thousand Grandmothers for Peace" to protest in November 2006 against the torture-training School of the Americas (SOA) (now called the Western Institute of Security Cooperation or WHINSEC) located at Ft. Benning Georgia.
SOA-WHINSEC has been the subject of international criticism since it was disclosed that torture manuals were used in the training of Latin American military personnel. Amnesty International USA called for the closing of the school, an investigation into the human rights atrocities committed by its graduates, an apology to its victims and reparations.
This week a federal judge in Columbus Georgia sentenced Ms. Webster to 2 months in federal prison for stepping through a hole in
the fence onto the grounds of Ft. Benning to carry her protest to the doors of the SOA-WHINSEC.
Two other Grandmothers for Peace were also sentenced to federal prison for the nonviolent protest - Julienne Oldfield of Syracuse NY and Val Fillenwarth of Indianapolis IN.
The three grandmothers were part of a group of 16 human rights activists, ages 17 to 71, who were on trial in federal court in
Georgia this week. Fifteen of the activists were given federal prison sentences of one to six months.
Alongside the grandmothers were five inspiring college students: Melissa Helman of Ashland WI, Martina Leforce and Nathan Slater from Berea KY, Graymon Ward of Raleigh NC and Whitney Ray of Grinnel, IA. All were all arrested and prosecuted for trespass as well. Four were also sentenced to prison.
Ms. Webster told the judge "You will notice that increasingly, it is the elders who are speaking out and acting boldly and authoritatively to bring understanding of what justice, kindness, generosity and compassion mean in a world weary of the endless conquest and dominance mindset of nations."
Ms. Webster estimated that over 1000 grandmothers participated in the November protest organized by School of Americas Watch which was attended by nearly 20,000 people. The annual protest commemorates the thousands who have died at the hands of the graduates of the SOA-WHINSEC, which used and taught from publicly disclosed torture manuals in its training of Latin American military personnel.
The grandmothers and the rest of the 16 protestors will join over 250 other activists who have spent a collective 92 years in prison and dozens of years on federal probation for prior nonviolent civil disobedience at the gates to Ft. Benning and the SOA-WHINSEC.
For more on the human rights activists going to federal prison and more on the campaign to close the SOA-WHINSEC, see www.soaw.org
Bill Quigley (email@example.com) is a human rights lawyer and professor of law at Loyola University New Orleans. Bill was part of the legal collective representing these human rights protestors in federal court in Georgia.