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VIRGINIA HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS ON TRIAL: Eight Virginia Human Rights Activists on Trial

Eight Virginia Human Rights Activists Stand Trial for Civil Disobedience at School of the Americas

Trial Starts Monday, July 8 in Columbus, Georgia

Eight Virginia residents are among thirty-seven human rights activists will stand trial in federal court next week for civil disobedience at the School of the Americas (renamed Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation) in Columbus, Georgia. They were among 10,000 who gathered last November to call for the closure of the notorious school. The defendants peacefully crossed onto Ft. Benning, site of the school. They are charged with trespass and face up to six months in federal prison and $5,000 in fines. Trial is scheduled to start July 8 before Magistrate G. Mallon Faircloth in Columbus.

The eight Virginians are long time social justice organizers.Brigid Conarchy Goochland, VA, 23, Catholic worker with Little Flower Community in Goochland, VA. Niklan Jones-Lezama Blacksburg, VA, 38, married to Nicaraguan Sandinista. Part of fact-finding delegations. David O’Neill Elkton, VA Organic farmer, mason, and community organizer. Lee Sturgis Elkton, VA Organic farmer, social worker, and herbalist. Peter Gelderloos Harrisonburg, VA 19, anti-sweatshop organizer and journalist on homelessness. Abi Miller Harrisonburg, VA, 23, Involved in a community center, community gardens, and tutoring ESL. Sue Daniels Pembroke, VA, 41, a doctoral student in avian conservation biology. Nancy Gowen Richmond, VA, 68, Member of Pax Christi and Murder Victims Families for Reconciliation.

Five of the Virginia residents are among a group of seven who crossed onto the base in November to deliver an indictment to the personnel responsible for the school, charging them with violation of the US Patriot Act and various international laws. Two of the defendants plan to plead not guilty in an attempt to prove that delivering an indictment should be within the legal rights of any citizen. If they are given prison time, they will use their time in jail to confront the SOA through every possible outlet.

Judge Faircloth is known for giving the maximum of six months to opponents of the SOA/WHISC. Seventy-one people have served a total of over forty years in prison for engaging in nonviolent resistance in a broad-based campaign to close the school. Last year 26 people were prosecuted, including Dorothy Hennessey, an 88 year-old Franciscan nun who was sentenced to six months in federal prison.

“Those who speak out for justice are facing harsh prison sentences while SOA-trained torturers and assassins are operating with impunity,” said SOA Watch founder Fr. Roy Bourgeois.

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. The abuses continue. Colombia, who currently has the worst human rights record in the Western Hemisphere, with over 10,000 students, is the school’s largest customer. In April, two SOA graduates, Efrain Vasquez and General Ramirez Poveda, helped lead a failed coup on the democratically elected president of Venezuela. In June, Colombian police arrested SOA graduate John Fredy Jimenez for the murder of Archbishop Isais Duarte in March.

In December 2000 Congress authorized the WHISC to replace the SOA. The renaming of the school was widely viewed as an attempt to diffuse public criticism and to disassociate the school from its reputation. SOA Watch maintains that the underlying purpose of the school, to control the economic and political systems of Latin America by aiding and influencing Latin American militaries, remains the same.

Updates on the trial will be posted on the IMC site.
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