(en) School of the Americas Watch UPDATE 17 Nov

Robert Cherwink (rc@vom.com)
Mon, 17 Nov 1997 01:18:50 -0800

A AA AAAA The A-Infos News Service AA AA AA AA INFOSINFOSINFOS http://www.tao.ca/ainfos/ AAAA AAAA AAAAA AAAAA

School of the Americas Watch UPDATE 17 Nov

For more information about the School of the Americas and SOA Watch, see http://www.derechos.org/soaw/ or send email to soaw@derechos.org

------------------------ 1. SOA opponents march into Post 2. War veterans join in protest 3. About the School of Assassins and School of the Americas Watch ------------------------

>From the Columbus Ledger Enquirer
SOA opponents march into Post November 17, 1998

By Wayne Partridge Staff Writer

About 600 protesters walked through Fort Benning's main gate and into the custody of post police officers Sunday during the largest demonstration to date against the U.S. Army School of the Americas.

An estimated 1,500 to 2,000 demonstrators crowded onto the Columbus side of the Fort Benning boundary for about three hours of speeches and prayers before marchers defied police orders and filed two-by-two onto the post, some carrying cardboard coffins and crosses bearing the names of those believed killed by graduates of the School of the Americas.

"Today is a historic moment. Columbus, Georgia, will never be the same," the Rev. Roy Bourgeois, founder of S.O.A. Watch, told the crowd before leading the march. "We are growing in number. We are never going to stop until we close the School of the Americas."

Demonstrators traveled from throughout the country to participate in Sunday's protest, the culmination of a four-day vigil aimed at closing the School of Americas, which opponents blame for human rights abuses committed by some of its nearly 60,000 graduates.

School officials say the institution, which moved to Fort Benning from Panama in 1984, is largely responsible for the growth of democracy in Latin America, and teaches its students about human rights in each of its courses.

Public sentiment to close the school is being pushed by a campaign of misinformation by school opponents, whose ultimate enemy is the U.S. government, Col. Roy Trumble, the school's commandant, said during a news conference after the march.

Other school supporters said many in the crowd of college students, retirees and peace activists already had made up their minds before arriving in Columbus.

"Some of these people have come up to me and told me that Cuba is the best country in Latin America," said Rich Wampler, a school supporter who stood among the demonstrators, offering to talk with anyone who would listen. "Other people tell me that you can't possibly be a Christian . . . and serve in the military. That's the mind-set we're up against."

Attendance at Sunday's demonstration dwarfed the turnout generated for the seven previous annual protests, which have been timed to coincide with the anniversary of the Nov. 16, 1989, killings of six Jesuit priests by a Salvadoran army unit.

Until this weekend, last year's vigil was the most heavily attended, with about 300 to 500 carrying banners, singing and praying outside the post. Fort Benning police arrested 60 protesters for marching onto the post in 1996, but, so far, none has been prosecuted on the misdemeanor charge of criminal trespass.

In the weeks leading to the protest, Bourgeois said he would have been happy if just 1,000 people showed up and 300 people would risk arrest to march into the post, which Army leaders keep open to the public, but not to demonstrators.

Bourgeois and Carol Richardson, S.O.A. Watch's Washington, D.C., coordinator, led twice as many people about a half-mile into the post before being stopped and placed under arrest by Department of Defense police. Post officials said they arrested 597 demonstrators, most of whom were charged with trespassing and released Sunday evening.

While police were loading the main group of marchers onto a dozen idling buses, two officers took Bourgeois by the arm and led him several hundred yards away to a waiting police cruiser, where they frisked him and took him to be processed alone.

"Sir, you are under arrest for violating your exclusion order," Col. Tom Cain, Fort Benning director of public safety, told Bourgeois as he led him away. Bourgeois simply nodded and, like most of the other marchers, offered no resistence to the arresting officers.

The event went almost exactly as S.O.A. Watch organizers predicted during their strategy meeting on Friday. Like the 60 protesters who marched onto post in 1996, most of Sunday's marchers will not be prosecuted.

"There is safety in numbers. They don't want to go through the hassle of charging 500 people," Richardson told potential marchers Friday. "That's why we need as many people as possible. That will not only send a message to the media, but it will protect those who chose to participate in civil disobedience."

First-time demonstrators will receive letters barring them from post, but the post will not pursue further action against them, according to Rich McDowell a Fort Benning spokesman. The post even fed the marchers soup and sandwiches -- at a cost of about $1,800 -- while they waited for police to write their arrest reports.

But repeat offenders, such as Bourgeois, who is under court order to remain off post, face up to six months in prison. Bourgeois and others with trespass records will be ordered to appear before a federal judge for arraignment on Wednesday, McDowell said.

Prison terms are exactly what protest leaders want. In an earlier interview, Bourgeois said prison time brings more attention to the issue, swaying public sentiment to the S.O.A. Watch side.

"It's a small price to pay," Bourgeois said. "I'm giving up a few months of my freedom so that others might live."

------------------------ 2. War veterans join in protest ------------------------

>From the Columbus Ledger Enquirer
War veterans join in protest November 17, 1998

By Tony Adams Benning Leader Editor

Years ago, they were trained to kill. And they used that special skill to fight wars in Korea, Germany and Vietnam.

Today, former soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines involved with the group Veterans of Peace say they are trying to help stop the murder and torture taking place in Central America.

At least 200 members of the group, which has chapters around the nation, were on hand for Sunday's demonstration against the U.S. Army School of the Americas at Fort Benning.

Among the veteran activists was John Grant, a photographer from Philadelphia who served a tour of duty in Vietnam. Grant, president of the Philadelphia chapter of Veterans for Peace, and a handful of comrades made the more than 14-hour drive from their northern homes to lend their support at the protest site outside Fort Benning's main gate.

"We just think that this school shouldn't be here," Grant said. "I've been to El Salvador. I've seen victims. I've heard a woman describe finding her daughter's body dumped, skinned and with her breasts cut off. You hear that the people who did that were taught at these schools and it gives you the chills. It shouldn't be taught anymore."

John Alexander, also from Philadelphia, served 54 continuous days in combat in Germany during the later stages of World War II. His unit liberated hundreds of Jews from a death camp in Austria. The horror of seeing bodies stacked there like firewood is something Alexander still finds hard to shake from his mind. He said he brings that experience to the current effort to close the School of the Americas.

"At that time I felt that the Nazis had to be done away with. It was unconscionable what they were doing," said Alexander, a member of Veterans for Peace the last nine years. "Here at the School of the Americas, I do not see that they are training those people to do anything good. It's the same as when the Nazis were being trained in Germany prior to World War II."

A family affair

The family that prays together stays together.

That could be the motto of Bruce and Julie Pearson, who traveled from Columbia, S.C., to Columbus to take part in the protest. The Pearsons also brought along their daughter and son-in-law, Cresta and David Leach, both students at the University of South Carolina, to lend support to those committing "civil disobedience" at Fort Benning.

Clutching small wooden crosses bearing the names of alleged victims of atrocities in Central America, the family stood quietly behind police barricades as the event unfolded.

A retired teacher, Bruce Pearson said the close congressional vote on funding the school earlier this year has buoyed the activists seeking its closure.

"The funding for the School of the Americas passed by only four votes, so we're working to pick up those four votes the next time around," Pearson said. "(The school) is contrary to everything American ideals are based on. We're sending people into Latin America not to advance principles of democracy or equality or justice. We're aiding those in power to suppress those who stand up for their ideals."

Also members of Amnesty International, a human rights group, the Pearsons find time to demonstrate against nuclear weapons and the death penalty.

The right to speak out

There was no organized support for the School of the Americas visible at Sunday's protest. There was, however, Eliel Charneco, who professed to be a retired soldier.

Holding a banner proclaiming, "We Support Ft. Benning and the School of the Americas," Charneco drew heckles from other protesters for the vocal manner in which he was protesting. At one point, a minor scuffle broke out and Columbus police had to intervene.

"I support love, those people that need feeding, that need schools and hospitals," Charneco said. "That's what they should be demonstrating about, taking care of the little children, not about the killers. There's killers all over the place; they will always be here."

Anti-SOA protesters standing beside Charneco defended his right to say what he wants, even if he was saying the school should remain open.

"He has the right to freedom of speech as much as I do. I think that people who are trying to silence him, it's not really fair," said Sister Claire of Sister of Christian Charity order from Linden, N.J. The sister declined to give her last name because her brother is in the Army and she didn't want to get him in trouble with her actions.

"Eliel does have a right to voice his opinion, there's no doubt about that. He's a man of faith, it's pretty obvious," said Andres Thomas Conteris, who works with the church in Honduras. "We're glad that Eliel has a concern about the poor in Central America. But we hope that he won't yell and disrupt, but he has a right to do that."

Few complaints overall

As expected, security was extremely tight before, during and after the protest. About two dozen officers from the Columbus Police Department were keeping an eye on the demonstrators as they carried out their vigil.

Once the "funeral procession" of mock coffins began, Fort Benning's police officers took over. Fort Benning Boulevard was closed and road blocks set up at main avenues leading to Main Post and the School of the Americas.

With the exception of a chalk message calling for the closing of the school written on the street adjacent to the protest site, there were few problems, according to Columbus Police Officer John Borg, who was standing guard at an intersection.

"It's been peaceful overall," Borg said. "There have been one or two who don't want to comply with leaving their poles or boards or sticks behind. They say it's interfering with their freedom of speech, but they eventually put 'em down. It's basically against the law. We're classifying it under the possession of dangerous weapons act. The only thing that they are allowed to carry in are the crucifixes."

Borg did say that there had been a few nearby residents complaining about the parking, as well as the chants, singing and speeches made by the demonstrators.

Ann Nutter, a resident of Southgate Apartments, stood about 200 feet away from the protest, trying to understand what all the commotion was about. Living at Southgate for three years, Nutter had seen previous demonstrations from a distance and thought she knew what to expect. But not this time.

"The parking and noise is a little ridiculous," she said. "I work 11 p.m. until 7 a.m. and I'm trying to get some sleep. I called the main number at the police department and they said we can file a complaint and if they're parking on private property they can have it towed."

Local show of support

There weren't many Columbus residents among the crowd calling for the School of the Americas to shut its doors. And many of those who were there didn't want to give their names.

But Rebecca Carter didn't mind. She said it was the least she could do to show her support for the movement and its mastermind, the Rev. Roy Bourgeois.

"I don't think the people in Columbus really know what's going on here," she said. "They know of the School of the Americas, but I don't think they realize the facts. Father Bourgeois is a good person."

------------------------ 3. About the School of Assassins and School of the Americas Watch ------------------------

For more information about the School of the Americas and SOA Watch, see http://www.derechos.org/soaw/ or send email to soaw@derechos.org

>From the SOAW homepage:

School of the Americas Watch Close the School of Assassins

The US Army School of Assassins, based in Fort Benning, Georgia, trains Latin American soldiers in combat, counter-insurgency, and counter-narcotics. Graduates of the School of Assassins have been responsible for some of the worst human rights abuses in Latin America. Among the SOA's nearly 60,000 graduates are some of the most notorious dictators of Latin America: Manuel Noreiga and Omar Torrijos of Panama, Leopoldo Galtieri and Roberto Viola of Argentina, Juan Velasco Alvarado of Peru, Guillermo Rodriguez of Ecuador, and Hugo Banzer Suarez of Bolivia.

Lower-level graduates of the School of Assassins have been responsible for some of the most notorious massacres and human rights abuses including the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero and the El Mozote Massacre.

Act Now!!

Current cosponsors of HR 611 and S. 980 , the bills that would close the SOA - 122 so far for HR 611 and seven for S. 980!! Compose your letter online, print it out and send it your Congressional Representative. On February 5, 1997, Rep. Joe Kennedy introduced legislation in the US House of Representatives that would close the School of the Americas. On June 27, 1997, Senator Durbin introduced a companion bill in the Senate. You can help by writing your Congressional Representative and asking him/her to support HR 611 and asking your Senator to support S. 980. You can download an ASCII text version or a PDF version of HR 611, the House bill to close the School of Assassins. You can also get the ASCII text or PDF versions of S. 980. You need Adobe Acrobat in order to read the PDF documents.

Contact SOA Watch

For more information or to donate or help, please email us or contact: School of the Americas Watch Fr. Roy Bourgeois P.O. Box 3330 Columbus, GA 31903-0330 (706) 682-5369SOA Watch - DC Office Carol Richardson 1719 Irving Street NW Washington, DC 20010-2612 Phone/Fax (202) 234-3440

The SOAW homepage is maintained by Mike Katz-Lacabe and Margarita Lacabe. Last Updated November 13, 1997.

For more information about the School of the Americas and SOA Watch, see http://www.derechos.org/soaw/ or send email to soaw@derechos.org


NOTICE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving this information for research and educational purposes.



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