Fourteen members of a faith-based organisation - including two high school students - are facing up to six months in prison in the US for their acts of nonviolent civil disobedience calling for closure of the US Army's School of the Americas (SOA).
The fourteen were among more than 16,000 who gathered in November to call for the closure of the SOA, now renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation or WHINSEC.
The group peacefully crossed onto Ft. Benning, the site of the school, at the culmination of a "funeral" procession in memory of victims of graduates of the school.
The defendants are scheduled to begin trial at 9 am on Monday morning before Judge G. Mallon Faircloth.
Judge Faircloth is known for handing down stiff sentences to opponents of the SOA/ WHINSEC, often imposing the maximum of
six months in prison and a ,000 fine.
Since protests against the SOA/WHINSEC began more than a decade ago, more than 170 people have served a total of over 75 years in prison for engaging in nonviolent resistance in a broad-based campaign to close the school.
"People working and speaking out for justice are facing prison time," said Fr. Roy Bourgeois, founder of SOA Watch, "while the SOA/ WHINSEC and its graduates continue to operate with complete impunity."
The SOA, now renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation or WHINSEC, is a military training school located at Fort Benning, Georgia where over 60,000 Latin American security personnel have been trained in courses including counterinsurgency, sniper training, psychological warfare and interrogation techniques. Graduates of the school have been consistently linked to human rights violations and to the suppression of popular movements in Central and South America.
The movement to close the SOA/ WHINSEC continues to grow. After a meeting last year with Fr. Bourgeois and other religious leaders, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez decreed that Venezuela would no longer send soldiers to train at the institution.
SOA Watch, founded in 1990, is a national, grassroots, faith- and conscience-based organisation committed to nonviolence.
SOA Watch has held a demonstration at the main entrance to Ft. Benning each November since 1990 calling for the closure of the training facility.