Twenty- two human rights activists received three to six month sentences in federal prison for nonviolent actions to close the SOA/WHISC
Columbus, GA – Twenty-seven human rights advocates from across the country were tried this week in federal court on misdemeanor federal trespass charges for acts of civil disobedience 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). Graduates of the controversial combat training school for Latin American soldiers continue to be implicated in human rights atrocities throughout Latin America. The 27defendants were among 10,000 who gathered in November to call for the closure of the SOA/WHISC.
The defendants included one Catholic nun, three Jesuit priests and one Jesuit brother, a Presbyterian minister, a Diocesan priest, a Franciscan priest, two Quakers, a divinity school student, a former New York City Firefighter, a Nobel Peace Prize Nominee, and various human rights activists.
”I just felt a need, a calling, to commit an intentional act of civil disobedience, especially because of what is going on in Iraq when the United States is involved in a pre-emptive, aggressive war”, stated defendant Dave Corcoran, a hospital chaplain.
The defendants testified in court against a double standard in the “war on terrorism”, offering evidence to put the SOA/WHISC and U.S. foreign policy on trial. Defense Attorney Edward Osowski argued that first amendment rights of defendants were violated when the military blasted patriotic music toward the permitted demonstration site on Saturday, November 22nd.
The trial Magistrate, G. Mallon Faircloth, adhered to his previous sentencing record, and gave sentences ranging from 12 months probation to six months in federal prison, with fines ranging from 500 to 1,500 dollars. Nearly 175 people have served a total of over 75 years in prison, and 17 people have served a total of 22 years of probation for nonviolent resistance in a broad-based campaign to close the school.
The SOA/WHISC is a combat training school for Latin American soldiers. Its graduates are consistently involved in human rights atrocities and coups, including the El Mozote Massacre of over 900 civilians and last year's failed coup in Venezuela. In 1996 the Pentagon was forced to release training manuals used at the school that advocated the use of torture, extortion and execution. SOA Watch founder Fr. Roy Bourgeois traveled to Venezuela to ask president Hugo Chavez to stop sending Venezuelan military personnel to the SOA/WHISC. Chavez, who continues to be popular amongst the overwhelmingly poor population of Venezuela, is taking Fr. Bourgeois request under serious consideration.