Columbus, GA – As President Bush expands the “war on terrorism”, thousands are planning to take nonviolent direct action to close what they call a terrorist training camp on U.S. soil – the School of the Americas, renamed Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (SOA/WHISC), a combat training school for Latin American soldiers. This weekend thousands will gather at the gates of Ft. Benning, Georgia, site of the school, to expose a double standard. SOA grads continue to be implicated in egregious acts designed to terrorize and coerce civilian populations throughout Latin America.
“Bush said we must uproot every known terrorist training camp,” said Abi Miller of Harrisonburg, VA. “We’re shining a light on one operating with impunity in our backyard.” Miller is among 26 human rights activists serving three to six-month prison sentences for their part in last November's peaceful procession.
Today at 1PM the ACLU of Georgia and SOA Watch will go to court challenging last minute plans by the City of Columbus to conduct unprecedented mass searches of each of the anticipated thousands of participants in the vigil. Gerry Weber of the ACLU said, “We have monitored protests for decades and this is the first time we’ve ever heard of a plan to conduct mass searches of all demonstrators.”
SOA Watch founder, Fr. Roy Bourgeois added, “We must be vigilant in defending civil liberties when they are threatened, both here and in Latin America.”
SOA Watch has a twelve-year history of disciplined nonviolent direct action to challenge oppressive U.S. foreign policy in Latin America and to close the SOA. The weekend’s program will feature music and speakers from Latin and North America, including The Indigo Girls. The gathering marks the anniversary of the 1989 assassination of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter in El Salvador by SOA grads. In 1996 the Pentagon was forced to release training manuals used at the school that advocated the use of torture, extortion and execution. In December 2000 Congress authorized WHISC to replace SOA. The renaming was widely viewed as an attempt to diffuse criticism and disassociate the school from its reputation. SOA Watch maintains that the underlying purpose of the school, to control the economic and political systems of Latin America by training and influencing Latin American militaries, remains the same.
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