Thousands march outside Army school in annual protest
COLUMBUS, Georgia (AP) --Thousands of demonstrators marched outside
Benning Sunday to protest a former Army school they blame for alleged human rights
violations against Latin American civilians. About 40 people were taken into custody.
During the annual funeral march to the front gate of the post, protesters
signs reading "Imperialist Assassins" and created a memorial to the alleged victims of
graduates of the School of the Americas, which was a training center for Latin
American soldiers. Some stuck crosses through the chain-link fence.
"I wanted to bear witness to these deeds by SOA graduates -- to take
a stand against
terrorism wherever it happens to be," said Ralph Armbruster, a social science
teacher from Santa Barbara, California.
About 40 people were taken into custody after they slipped through an
opening in a
fence and onto base property. The crowd, estimated by police at 6,000 to 7,000,
included senior citizens and veterans.
With the United States at war against terrorists and Americans riding
wave, organizers said it was more important than ever to protest the former school.
"We are fighting terrorism out there in other parts of the world, but
here we are
harboring and training terrorists," the Rev. Roy Bourgeois, who founded School of
the Americas Watch in 1990, said Saturday.
The annual demonstration at the gates of Fort Benning commemorates the
1989, killings in El Salvador of six Jesuit priests, to which some of the school's
graduates have been linked.
Military officials strongly deny Bourgeois' claims.
"Criminals often go on to commit crimes in spite of the best efforts
institutions they attend," said Brig. Gen. Paul Eaton. "People are focusing on the
past. We are focusing on the future."
The Army closed its School of the Americas in December after a decade of protests.
A month later, SOA was replaced by the Western Hemisphere Institute
Cooperation, which is operated by the Department of Defense. The DOD says the
institute's new mission is to focus on 21st century challenges, not the bloody Latin
American insurgencies of the 1980s.
Twenty-six SOA Watch demonstrators were convicted of trespass for participating
in last year's funeral procession representing those who died in Latin America.
Copyright 2001 The Associated Press.