Protesters at Georgia Base Tried on Trespass Charge
U.S. Base Trained Rights Abusers, Activists Say
COLUMBUS, Ga.—Twenty-six peace activists, including a 68-year-old nun,
went on trial Tuesday on trespassing charges in connection with protests
at a military
training school for Latin American soldiers.
The defendants, who range in age from 19 to 88, face maximum penalties
of up to six months in prison and a $5,000 fine. They appeared before U.S.
Judge G. Mallon Faircloth in Columbus, Georgia, 107 miles southwest of Atlanta.
"It's a matter of conviction," said Sister Gwen Hennessey, a 68-year-old
Franciscan nun from Iowa, one of the protesters on trial. "Atrocities have
been traced back
to graduates of the School of the Americas."
Hennessey said she has been protesting for years at the former U.S.
Army School of the Americas, which reopened in January as the Western Hemisphere
for Security Cooperation. The school, at the Fort Benning military installation, has been a target of critics who say it has been a training ground for Latin American
dictators and assassins.
Defenders of the school maintain it has helped spread democratic values and should not be held responsible for unlawful acts of a few graduates.
Eric LeCompte, outreach director for the Washington-based School of
Americas Watch, which has organized annual protests against the training
facility, said the trial
was expected to last through the day, with sentencing likely Wednesday.
A U.N. panel found 19 Salvadoran officers involved in the 1989 killings
of six Jesuits in El Salvador had been trained at the facility, the School
of Americas Watch
The School of Americas Watch says Latin Americans trained at the school have committed rights abuses in countries such as Colombia and El Salvador.
The School of Americas Watch group says nearly 50 people have served a total of 30 years in federal prison for civil disobedience on Fort Benning.
© 2001 Reuters