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1700 Arrested at Army School Protest

Chapter 1: Father Roy Bourgeois

Chapter 2: An act of conscience: Marie Dennis at SOA

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By Public WebWorks Staff and wire reports

19 Nov 2000, Columbus, Ga. -- Despite a steady rain and frigid temperatures, more than 5,000 protesters chanted, prayed and stomped in the mud around Ft. Benning Nov. 19 with a common demand: close the U.S. Army School of the Americas.

It was the tenth year for this annual protest. By its end, 1,700 people, including actor Martin Sheen, were arrested by military officials and received letters banning them from the post for five years.

At the head of the procession were people dressed in shrouds, wearing white masks and carrying coffins representing Latin Americans they say had been killed by people trained at the school. When the protesters were nearly a half mile into the post, they set the coffins down, poured red paint on themselves and fell to the ground in what they called a "die in."

When they refused to get on buses, they were put into plastic handcuffs, photographed and placed on canvas litters to be processed.

The protests were led by the Father Roy Bourgeois, a Vietnam veteran who says he is committed to non-violent tactics. Military officials said that less than one percent of the students have been linked to any violence. School of the Americas Watch

Bourgeois paid special tribute to protestors who joined the School of the America's action from campaigns against the World Bank and sweatshops. Many of those involved also participated in protests against the World Trade Organization an the International Monetary Fund.

For the most part, however, the School of the America's movement is faith based, including many Catholic nuns.

"I think of this as kind of prayer. By our very presence we are standing for what we believe in," said Sister John Backenstos of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary order of McKenzie Bridge, Ore.

In 1999, about 65 people were cited when they entered the post. But this year post commander Maj. Gen. John Le Moyne decided to cite more people because it gives "us an opportunity to engage in a dialogue about the school," Le Moyne said. Fort Benning, Georgia Home of the Infantry USAIC USAIS ARMY Ranger Airborne

Le Moyne said that instructors and chaplains at the school talked with protesters about the school's philosophy and curriculum.

The school's commander, Col. Glen Weidner, conceded that the protests have had an impact. The school is scheduled to close next month and reopen in January with a new name, the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. The school plans to feature more human rights courses and an oversight committee.

Bourgeois said renaming the school was the same as relabeling a bottle of poison with the word "penicillin. It's still deadly."

Hundreds of protesters carried crosses bearing the names of people who they say died at the hands of the military in Mexico and Central and South America. Before boarding the buses to be processed they planted the crosses into the wet ground.

Sheen and others in the front knelt on the pavement, waiting for the military police. When they didn't come, he said, "Let's go to Muhammad" and walked to the waiting buses along with the others. People carrying crosses were asked by police to leave them. Many protesters forced the crosses into the ground before boarding buses.

The protests coincide with the Nov. 16, 1989, murder of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her 15-year-old daughter. A United Nations truth commission found that 19 of the 26 soldiers implicated in the deaths were SOA graduates.

Alisa Daubenspeck, a senior at Oberlin College in Ohio, said it was important for her to be at Sunday's protest because "we elect the people that fund this school."

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