SOA activists sentenced

IssueMarch - May 2004
News by Alice Hunt

In late January, 28 peace activists were sentenced to a cumulative five years and ten and a half months in prison, five years probation, and US$8,500 in fines as a result of a nonviolent protest at the School of the Americas - now officially called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation - in Fort Benning, Georgia, USA.

Defendands process to court.

The protesters were arrested for trespassing after walking onto Fort Benning property on 23 November 2003, as a part of a 10,000-person protest against the US Army's military training facility. The 28 appeared before Judge G Mallon Faircloth.

One of the protesters, Ed Lewinson, had his charges dropped before the trial.

This School of the Americas (SOA) protest was the first for California activist Elizabeth Bradley.

”I crossed the line not only for myself but for thousands of others who feel just as strongly as I do,” she said in a statement to SOA Watch, a nonviolent organisation that calls for the immediate closure of the school. “Although I do not look forward to spending time in prison, any consequences to me as a result of my act of conscience will be a cakewalk compared to the atrocities suffered by my Latin American sisters and brothers on a daily basis.”

The School of the Americas was founded in 1946 as a training facility for Latin American military personnel, and was renamed in 2001.

According to the Center for International Policy's website, “training manuals used at the SOA and elsewhere from the early 1980s until 1991 promoted techniques that violated human rights and democratic standards”.

Opponents of the School of the Americas believe that those violent methods are still being taught today. Almost 170 people have served prison time for their nonviolent campaigns to close the school.

Sixteen other protesters were arrested last November. Karl Meyer of Nashville, Tennessee, was arrested after refusing to be searched with a metal detector. Found guilty, he was awaiting sentencing as PN went to press.

Fifteen protesters who accidentally drove onto the base were arrested for trespassing. On 8 January, their charges were dropped.