Monday, January 26, 2009

Human Rights Advocates Face Six Months in Federal Prison for Nonviolent Direct Action Opposing the School of the Americas (SOA/ WHINSEC)

/PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- On Monday, January 26, 2009, six human rights advocates will begin federal trials for carrying the protest against the School of the Americas onto the Fort Benning military base in Georgia. This school, re-named the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, is a controversial U.S. Army training school for Latin American soldiers. Each person faces up to six months in prison and a $5,000 fine for this act of nonviolent civil disobedience.

The 6 were among the tens of thousands who gathered on November 22-23, 2008 outside the gates of Fort Benning, Georgia to demand a change in U.S.-Latin America foreign policy and the closure of the School of the Americas (SOA/WHINSEC). The group peacefully crossed onto Ft. Benning in memory of those killed by graduates of the institution.

The "SOA 6" are:

Sr. Diane Pinchot, OSU, from Cleveland, Ohio
Theresa Cusimano, Denver, Colorado
Father Luis Barrios, from North Bergen, NJ
Al Simmons, from Richmond, Virginia
Louis Wolf, from Washington, DC
Kristen Holm, from Chicago, Illinois

The SOA/WHINSEC, a military training facility for Latin American security personnel located at Fort Benning, Georgia, made headlines in 1996 when the Pentagon released training manuals used at the school that advocated torture, extortion and execution. In spite of an aggressive international PR campaign and lobbying efforts on behalf of WHINSEC, support for the institute continues to erode. With over thirty-five Representatives who voted to continue funding the SOA/WHINSEC losing their seats in Congress in November 2008, human rights advocates have their sights set on pressuring the new Congress to permanently shut down the school in 2009. The last vote to defund the SOA/WHINSEC, in 2007, lost by a margin of only six votes.

The trial at the Federal Court in Columbus, Georgia will begin at 9am before Judge G. Mallon Faircloth, known for handing down stiff sentences to SOA/WHINSEC opponents. Since protests against the SOA/WHINSEC began 19 years ago, 237 people have served prison sentences of up to two years for nonviolent civil disobedience.

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Georgia Front Page


Chris said...

The six people, who went on trial today, participated in a public drama of crime and punishment. The small view of the news is that their crime was trespassing on an American military base. The larger view is the news that Americans can live up to our noble ideals of truth and justice.
For too long, WHINSEC has represented the military, economic, and political oppression that destroys people's bodies and threatens people’s souls. The good news is that those who trespassed onto WHINSEC property believe change is possible. Americans, capable of great good and terrible destruction, can live into our better selves. We should not try to silence or ignore such messengers.

Those who participated in this nonviolent action of conscience and civil disobedience remind us all that there is a better way. The Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation can be held accountable. Yes it can.

Those who strive for peace, justice, love and community become messengers of good news. They nurture the hope that injustice, exploitation, greed and fear will not determine our actions towards other people.

Lee Rials said...

These six people are the victims of a dishonest, heartless political 'movement' that is coming to the end of its road. Six people got federal convictions, and to what purpose? To get SOAW a little publicity, nothing more. And it was very little publicity at that. I say the movement is dishonest, even fraudulent, because it tries to claim that any association with the Army's School of the Americas led to crimes. There is not even ONE example of that; not one crime by anyone has ever been linked to attendance at the school. So what is the point of this? To convince people that US foreign policy is bad, and we shouldn't cooperate with our neighbors on common problems such as natural disasters or trafficking in drugs, humans, you name it. I feel some sympathy with the six convicted, but they owe it to themselves and their families to find the truth before putting themselves in such a position. They could have come unhindered to the institute any workday, showing only a photo ID to get here (I work at WHINSEC, as the Public Affairs Officer). They could have sat in classes, talked with students and faculty, looked at the curriculum, just as anyone can do.
Lee A. Rials
Public Affairs Officer
Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation