Joined by actor Martin Sheen, thousands of people from across the Americas gathered this weekend in Georgia call for an end to notorious US military training school
FORT BENNING, GEORGIA – One Colorado woman was arrested Sunday, November 20 on the grounds of Fort Benning as part of the annual vigil and demonstration to commemorate those killed by graduates of the notorious School of the Americas and to call for the immediate closure of the training institute.
Solemn intonation of the names of those killed by graduates of the School of the Americas filled the air as the music team sang out each name from the stage during this morning’s solemn funeral procession in front of the entrance to Fort Benning. The base is home to the US Army School of the Americas, renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (SOA/WHINSEC) in 2001, a training facility that has turned out some of Latin America’s most notorious killers and continues to be implicated in human rights abuses today.
“We’re here this weekend because inequality and oppression continue, and the School of the Americas plays a role in that,” said Jimena Paz, a leader in the Honduran resistance movement. “In my country SOA graduates continue to repress social movements who stand up against a coup led by graduates of this school right here in Fort Benning.”
Thousands have traveled to Columbus, Georgia this week to take part in the largest ongoing antimilitarization gathering in the country. Here they are demanding not only the closure of the disreputable school but for an end to the US militarization of Latin America.
Theresa Cusimano, arrested today for her act of civil disobedience, served as a public interest advocate for over 20 years. Before her action today, she spoke of her motivations.
“When you witness injustice, it changes you,” said Cusimano, 43. “You can’t function in the world the way you did before bearing witness.”
Cusimano was arrested at Fort Benning in 2008 as part of a protest against the SOA/ WHINSEC, and for that action she served two months in federal prison.
“It is from numerous acts of courage that human history has been shaped,” said actor and director Martin Sheen, who addressed the crowd of over 5,000 this morning and has publicly called for the closure of the School of the Americas for over a decade. “Whether we choose to acknowledge it or not we are all responsible for each other and the world.”
Joining Martin Sheen on stage this weekend was Georgia NAACP State President Edward DuBose, who told the crowd many had asked him why he’d come here.
“I made a promise to Troy Anthony Davis that I would continue to speak out against any system that takes any innocent life,” DuBose told the crowd. “However long it takes, we’ll be here. We’re on this road until justice is served!”
Earlier this year, 69 members of Congress asked President Obama to shut down the school by Executive Order, and last month Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) introduced legislation to suspend operations at the school and investigate human rights abuses in Latin America.
The SOA/WHINSEC is a U.S. taxpayer-funded military training school for Latin American soldiers, located at Fort Benning, Georgia. The school made headlines in 1996 when the Pentagon released training manuals used at the school that advocated torture, extortion and execution. Despite this, no independent investigation into the training facility has ever taken place. None of the school’s famous alumni reached power by way of the voting booth, as reported in Time Magazine’s October 2011 “Is It Time to Shutter the Americas’ ‘Coup Academy?’”
SOA Watch is a nonviolent grassroots movement that works to close the School of the Americas and change U.S. foreign policy towards Latin America. For more information, visit www.SOAW.org.