Wednesday, March 26, 2008

School of the Americas Vigil

Human Rights Protesters Sentenced to Federal Prison for Nonviolent Civil Disobedience Opposing Controversial U.S. Army Training School

Federal Magistrate Sentences 78-year-old Blind Man

Columbus, Ga - Eleven human rights activists, ranging in age from 25 to 78, appeared before U.S. Magistrate G. Mallon Faircloth in a Columbus, GA federal courthouse today. The eleven were charged with trespass after peacefully walking onto the Fort Benning military base on November 18 in protest of a controversial U.S. Army training school for Latin Americans with a legacy of human rights abuses.

Ed Lewinson, a 78-year old Professor Emeritus of History at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey, was sentenced to 90 days in prison and a $500 fine. Ed trespassed onto the base in three previous years but the state refused to prosecute due to his blindness.

Lewinson, together with the ten other defendants, were among the tens of thousands who gathered November 16-18 outside the gates of Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia to demand the closure of the controversial U.S. Army’s School of the Americas, now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (SOA/WHINSEC). The group peacefully crossed onto Ft. Benning, site of the school, at the culmination of a symbolic funeral procession in memory of those killed by graduates of the institution in Latin America.

"I crossed onto the base because of what graduates of the SOA/WHINSEC have done to the people of their own countries and I wanted to contribute something towards stopping this,” said Lewinson in regards to his act of nonviolent civil disobedience. “Only by pointing out the results of violence can we stop violence,” he added.

The defendants and sentences are:

Joan Anderson, 65, Casper, WY - 30 days and a $500 fine
Ozone Bhaguan, 33, Duluth, MN - 90 days and no fine
Le Anne Clausen, 29, Chicago, IL - 30 days and no fine
Art Landis, 74, Perkasie, PA - 30 days and no fine
Ed Lewinson, 78, Newark NJ - 90 days and a $500 fine
Chris Lieberman, 54, Albuquerque, NM - 60 days and no fine
Diane Lopez Hughes, 58, Springfield, IL - 45 days and a $500 fine
Tiel Rainelli, 25, Canton, OH. – 90 days and a $500 fine
Gus Roddy, 45, Chicago, IL – 30 days and a $500 fine
Stephen Schweitzer, 45, Binghamtom, NY – 60 days and a $500 fine
Michelle Yipé, 45, of Argonia, KS - 30 days and a $500 fine

The SOA/WHINSEC, a military training facility for Latin American security personnel located at Fort Benning, Georgia, made headlines in 1996 when the Pentagon released training manuals used at the school that advocated torture, extortion and execution. In spite of an aggressive international PR campaign and lobbying efforts on behalf of WHINSEC, support for the institute continues to erode. In 2007, Presidents Evo Morales of Bolivia and Oscar Arias of Costa Rica announced that they would cease to send military and police to the school, becoming the 4th and 5th countries after Argentina, Uruguay and Venezuela to commit to a withdrawal from the U.S. Army training facility.

Since protests against the SOA/WHINSEC began 18 years ago, 226 people have served prisons sentences of up to two years for nonviolent civil disobedience

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