February 11, 2003
Local Contact: Mike Wisniewski (909) 444-9483, firstname.lastname@example.org
SOA Watch Contact: Matthew Smucker (202) 903-7257, email@example.com
Los Angeles Area Grandfather On Trial for Civil Disobedience at the SOA
Local Human Rights Advocate Exposes Double Standard in War
on Terrorism, Places the SOA and U.S. Foreign Policy on Trial
Interviews and Photos Available
Columbus, GA West Covina resident Michael Wisniewski, 53, appeared for trial in federal court on Monday, Feb. 10, along with 34 other defendants for civil disobedience. The defendants were among 10,000 who gathered in Columbus, Georgia in November to expose what they call a terrorist training camp on U.S. soilthe School of the Americas, renamed Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (SOA/WHISC). The school's graduates continue to be implicated in atrocities and coups, including the El Mozote Massacre of over 900 civilians and last year's failed coup in Venezuela.
Wisniewski and 90 others peacefully crossed onto Ft. Benning, site of the school, on November 17, 2002. The 35 were the last of the group to be adjudicated. Forty-two defendants were tried and convicted Jan. 27 to 29. Sentences range from twelve months probation to six months in federal prison with ,000 in fines. The defendants include Catholic nuns, a priest, a reverend, veterans, union organizers and students.
Wisniewski, a father of four daughters and grandfather of 10, is a part time community member of the L.A. Catholic Worker and a print production manager by trade. "I'm on a roller coaster," he admits. "One day I'll get up and I'm fearless. A couple of hours later I could be breaking out into a cold sweat, thinking prison is the last place I want to be. To bring myself back into focus when I get scared, I think of the voices for whom I am speaking out: survivors who lost their loved ones, the tortured, the dead. The price they paid is much larger than my short prison term."
"The SOA is tragic and abhorrent," Wisniewski states. "It needs to be abolished because the graduates of the school go back to their native lands and use abusive techniques on their own people. I crossed the line [onto Ft. Benning] for reasons of faith and conscience. Being a Christian, I am called, as part of the Mystical Body of Christ, to feel the pain of others. I feel the pain of our sisters and brothers in Latin America. I cannot remain silent when the blood of these innocent victims cries out. I am compelled to put my body on the line, to say, No! to war, NO! to violence, NO! to teaching terrorism, NO! to being the world dominator, Not in my name!"
The SOA/WHISC is a combat training school for Latin American soldiers. In 1996 the Pentagon was forced to release training manuals used at the school that advocated use of torture, extortion and execution. In a 2002 report, Amnesty International calls for a suspension of training at the SOA/WHISC, and an independent commission of inquiry to investigate the school. Amnesty refutes the claim that the WHISC is a new institution, stating it "is essentially the same school as SOA, with the same primary mission."
Wisniewski and his co-defendants testified in court against a double standard in the "war on terrorism," and to put the SOA/WHISC and U.S. foreign policy on trial. Wisniewski comments, "Did not President Bush state after Sept. 11 that 'Every known terrorist camp must be shut down'?" The trial judge, G. Mallon Faircloth, known for giving harsh sentences and inflated fines to opponents of the SOA/WHISC, imposed a three month sentence in federal prison and a 00 fine on Wisniewski.
***School of the Americas Watch, www.soaw.org/newsroom***