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Protestors face jail for opposing U.S. Army School

Human Rights Advocates Face Six Months in Prison For Civil Disobedience Opposing Controversial U.S. Army Training School

Trials Begin in Columbus, Georgia on Monday, January 30; Grandmother, Priests, Retirees, Nun, Students among those Prosecuted

On Monday, January 30 thirty-two people ranging in age from 19 to 81 will begin federal trials for peacefully walking onto a military base in protest of a controversial Army training school. Each person faces up to six months in prison and a $5,000 fine for this act of nonviolent civil disobedience.

The 34 were among 19,000 who gathered on November 18-20 outside the gates of Ft. Benning, Georgia to demand a dramatic shift in U.S. foreign policy and the closure of the controversial U.S. Army’s School of the Americas, now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (SOA/WHINSEC). The group peacefully crossed onto Ft. Benning, site of the school, at the culmination of a symbolic funeral procession in memory of those killed by graduates of the institution.

“People speaking out for justice and accountability will most likely be sent to prison next week,” said Fr. Roy Bourgeois, founder of SOA Watch, “while the SOA and its graduates continue to operate outside a system of real accountability.”

Those arrested at the demonstration – 40 in all – cited the Bush Administration’s opposition to banning torture techniques, pictures of abuse at the hands U.S. personnel, and reports about secret CIA detention facilities as catalysts for this growing grassroots movement for human rights. The demonstration was the largest yet in a 16-year history of opposition to the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, a combat-training school for Latin American soldiers.

The SOA/ WHINSEC made headlines in 1996 when the Pentagon released training manuals used at the school that advocated torture, extortion and execution. Despite this admission and hundreds of documented human rights abuses connected to soldiers trained at the school, no independent investigation into the facility has ever taken place. New research confirms that the school continues to support known human rights abusers.

Despite having been investigated by the United Nations for ordering the shooting of 16 indigenous peasants in El Salvador (a massacre recorded by the State Department), Col. Francisco del Cid Diaz returned to SOA/WHINSEC in 2003.

The defendants are scheduled to begin trial at 9 am on Monday morning before Judge G. Mallon Faircloth, known for handing down stiff sentences to opponents of the SOA/ WHINSEC. Since protests against the SOA/WHINSEC began more than a decade ago, 183 people have served a total of over 81 years in prison for engaging in nonviolent resistance in a broad-based campaign to close the school.

The movement to close the SOA/ WHINSEC continues to grow. In 2005, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) introduced HR 1217, a bill to suspend operations at WHINSEC and to investigate the development and use of the “torture manuals.” The bill currently has 123 bipartisan co-sponsors.

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