Columbus Ledger-Enquirer (Georgia)
Thu, Jan. 29, 2004
SOA trials end

Five protesters found guilty of trespassing

Staff Writer

Five SOA Watch protesters who represented themselves before U.S. Magistrate G. Mallon Faircloth during a trial Wednesday in federal court were found guilty of misdemeanor trespass charges. Faircloth sentenced the defendants to prison terms ranging from 90 days to six months.

The five defendants were the last of 27 protesters who appeared before Faircloth this week on Class B trespass charges stemming from crossing onto Fort Benning in November during the 14th annual protest.

The protesters all admitted trespassing, but said they did so to speak out against violence and to work in the name of religion.

The Rev. Joseph Mulligan, a Catholic priest from Michigan who serves in Nicaragua, defended his crossing as a means of protecting innocent people in Latin America, as a way of supporting U.S. soldiers and as general self-defense for Americas.

"The action I took at Fort Benning on Nov. 23 was meant to contribute to a more peaceful and just situation for all of us to live in," he said.

The priest said the violence perpetrated by graduates of the School of the Americas did not end when the school changed its name to the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. He talked about friends and fellow priests murdered in their homes for speaking out against the status quo and described how aid workers, students, union organizers and environmentalists are killed regularly, even today.

Mulligan said he crossed onto Fort Benning as a means of encouraging soldiers to take human rights seriously.

He also hoped to inform U.S. soldiers about the option of conscientious objection as well as the difference between lawful and unlawful orders, he said. Mulligan encouraged soldiers to think about the current war in Iraq and to decide whether their consciences allow them to continue fighting there. He said there are legal ways for soldiers to object to participating in combat situations they do not support.

Faircloth responded that the military does not necessarily excuse conscientious objectors from duty, but generally does allow them not to carry weapons.

Finally the priest explained that American citizens like himself are living in terrible fear of terrorist attacks because of American foreign policy, especially recent unilateral actions. He said he hoped his crossing would bring attention to poor policies reaching from Latin America to the Middle East. A more just, multilateral policy could restore international faith in the U.S. government and slow the spread of terrorism, he said.

Mulligan said he does not believe that the only true patriots are those who support the government without question or thought.

"I don't accept that they are the patriot, and we are unpatriotic," he said. "The true patriot is he or she who says he loves his country, but will question it to make it better."

Mulligan was sentenced to 90 days in prison.