Columbus, GA – As the Bush Administration seeks to expand the “war on terrorism”, 35 human rights advocates from across the country are scheduled to appear for trial in federal court today where they intend to expose what they call a terrorist training camp on U.S. soil – the School of the Americas, renamed Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (SOA/WHISC). Graduates of the controversial combat training school for Latin American soldiers continue to be implicated in human rights atrocities throughout Latin America.
The defendants were among 10,000 who gathered in November to call for the closure of the SOA/WHISC. They were part of a group of 96 who peacefully crossed onto Ft. Benning, site of the school. The 35 are the last of this group to be adjudicated. Forty-two defendants were tried and convicted January 27-29. Sentences ranged from twelve months probation to six months in federal prison with fines.
The defendants include Catholic nuns, a priest, a reverend, veterans, union organizers and students.
“The SOA is out of alignment with the values of the American people,” said Judy Bierbaum, a defendant from Albuquerque, New Mexico, who was sentenced in January to six months in prison and a $2,000 fine. “Patriotism is not about slapping a flag in the window if that’s where it ends – it’s about calling our country to task.”
The defendants plan to testify in court against a double standard in the “war on terrorism”, and to put the SOA/WHISC and U.S. foreign policy on trial. The trial judge, G. Mallon Faircloth, is known for giving the maximum of six months to opponents of the SOA/WHISC.
The SOA/WHISC is a combat training school for Latin American soldiers. Its graduates are consistently involved in human rights abuses and atrocities. In 1996 the Pentagon was forced to release training manuals used at the school that advocated the use of torture, extortion and execution.
In a new report Amnesty International calls for a suspension of training at the SOA/WHISC, and an independent commission of inquiry to investigate the school. Amnesty refutes the claim that the WHISC is a new institution, stating that WHISC "is essentially the same school as SOA, with the same primary mission…”
The 35 SOA Defendants Facing Trial February 10
(listed in order of state)
To Arrange Interviews, Call: 706.221.1672
Carey Martin Birmingham, AL, 24, Server.
J.C. Orton Berkley, CA, 54, Father. Catholic Worker. Homeless Advocate. Peace & justice activist.
Rachel Montgomery Oakland, CA, 26, Owner of pet sitting and dog walking business.
Laura Slattery San Francisco, CA, 36, Nonviolence trainer.
Michael Wisniewski West Covina, CA, 53, Husband. Father. Grandfather. Freelance writer.
Daniel Manriquez Denver, CO, 18, Salesperson.
Sarah Martin Denver, CO, 19, Student.
Byron Plumley, Jr. Denver, CO, 55, Grandpa. Educator. Peace activist. Catholic Worker volunteer.
Tiffany Winters Denver, CO, 18, Student.
Eric Tews Greenwood Village, CO, Student.
Evalee (Lee) Mickey Mt Pleasant, IA, 65, Retired farmer. Widowed homemaker.
Douglas Kasper Wheaton, IL, 58,
Sonja Andreas Wichita, KS, 53, Psychiatric nurse.
Jason Lydon Hadley, MA, 20, Student.
Laurel Albina (Bischoff) Jamaica Plain, MA, 27,Worker with Unitarian Universalist Association.
Michelle LaValley Jamaica Plain, MA, 21, Unitarian Universalist Youth Programs.
John (Jack) Neis Apple Valley, MN, 61, Retired NW Airlines captain. Husband. Father. Grandfather.
Anika Walz Stacy, MN, 19, Student at College of St. Catherine. Social Justice peer minister.
Michael Ugarte Columbia, MO, 53, Professor of Spanish Lit. & Peace Studies at the Univ. of MO
Corbin Streett Dublin, MS, 23, Supervisor at teen rehab center. Member of peace & justice center.
Vera Brown Greensboro, NC, 20, Student at Guilford College. Amnesty International member.
Robert Hiltonsmith Greensboro, NC, 21, Senior at Guilford College. Anti-war activist.
Patrick Stanley Bronx, NY, 20, Student.
Doris Reed Endwell, NY, 78, Retired.
Caitlin Harwood Cleveland Hts, OH, 19, Anthropology major at the College of Wooster.
Tom Blancato Pittsburgh, PA, 40, Newspaper deliverer.
Judd Schiffman Providence, RI, 20, Works with economically underprivileged and disabled children.
Judith Kelly Arlington, VA, 57, Facilitator with nonviolence service. Served in Peace Corps.
Jane Lehr Blacksburg, VA, 27, Graduate student.
Patrick Lincoln Blacksburg, VA, 21, Senior Spanish major at Virginia Tech.
Jonson Miller Blacksburg, VA, 27, Virginia Tech graduate student.
Julia Shideler Olga, WA, 24, Americorps volunteer.
Mildred Vennessa Pustek Premerton, WA, 71, Retired.
Sr. Maureen Newman Seattle, WA, 57, Educator.
William Slattery Maribel, WI, 18, Student.
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