Ft. Benning, Georgia: 26 arrested outside US military’s counter-insurgency school for Latin America

WHAT IS THE SOA?

The School of the Americas (SOA), in 2001 renamed the “Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation,” is a combat training school for Latin American soldiers, located at Fort Benning, Georgia.Initially established in Panama in 1946, it was kicked out of that country in 1984 under the terms of the Panama Canal Treaty. Former Panamanian President, Jorge Illueca, stated that the School of the Americas was the “biggest base for destabilization in Latin America.”

The SOA, frequently dubbed the “School of Assassins,” has left a trail of blood and suffering in every country where its graduates have returned.

Over its 59 years, the SOA has trained over 60,000 Latin American soldiers in counterinsurgency techniques, sniper training, commando and psychological warfare, military intelligence and interrogation tactics. These graduates have consistently used their skills to wage a war against their own people.

Among those targeted by SOA graduates are educators, union organizers, religious workers, student leaders, and others who work for the rights of the poor. Hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans have been tortured, raped, assassinated, “disappeared,” massacred, and forced into refugee by those trained at the School of Assassins.

Speaking Truth to Power: David Omondi and Father Louis Vitale Sentenced to Six Months in Federal Prison on November 23 —Incarcerated in Georgia Jail

 

Four human rights activists were in court on Tuesday, November 23 after being arrested and charged with federal trespassing at Ft. Benning, Georgia on November 20 and 21. During their arraignment before U.S. Magistrate Judge Stephen Hyles, Nancy Smith and Christopher Spicer pled not guilty. Their trial is set for January 5. Franciscan priest Fr. Louis Vitale, OFM and David Omondi of the Los Angeles Catholic Worker Community pled no contest and put the SOA on trial through their statements in court. Fr. Louis and David were sentenced to the maximum 6 months in jail.

While nonviolent resisters are being sent to prison, those responsible for the use of torture manuals at the SOA have never even been charged for their crimes. Father Louis and David are presently in a Georgia county jail.

Write to the prisoners:
Because they may be transferred at any time, cards and letters to David may be sent to his community for forwarding: David Omondi, c/o The Los Angeles Catholic Worker, 632 N. Brittania St., Los Angeles, CA 90033. Louis’ mail may be sent to the Nuclear Resister for forwarding at P.O. Box 43383, Tucson, AZ 85733.

On Saturday, November 20, twenty-two others were arrested on city and state charges, including unlawful assembly, failure to disperse, and parading without a permit. Two were charged but not taken into custody. Some were blockading the highway leading into Fort Benning with a sign that read, “Stop: This is the End of the Road for the SOA”.

Many of those arrested were not intending to risk arrest but were swept up as they walked back to their cars after they left the permitted protest following the vigil on Saturday. These included journalists and a Columbus, Georgia resident who came out of a barber shop to take a photo of the protest. The SOA Watch Legal Collective is collecting testimony and photos of the indiscriminate arrests that took place on Saturday afternoon. Stay tuned!

On Sunday, November 21, Columbus Recorder’s Court Judge Michael Cielinski found 21 of the 24 who were arrested by the city guilty on all charges. Two were convicted in a state court the next day. All were released from jail by Monday, with fines and bonds as high as $4,152.50.

The SOA Watch community stepped up in a big way, supporters maxed out their credit cards at ATMs to ensure that no one had to stay another day in the Muscogee County Jail. Those who were arrested still have to answer state charges, and expect to be arraigned in January.

For more information about the Ft. Benning protest, visit www.SOAW.org.

Photos from the November Vigil:

by Linda Panetta


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