Three Arrested at Gates of School of the Americas Upon Return from Human Rights Delegation to Colombia
August 12, 2002
for immediate release
Contact: Jeff Winder 202.607.0052, 202.903.7257
Columbus, GA Yesterday 50 human rights activists gathered at the gates of Ft. Benning, Georgia, site of the School of the Americas (SOA), renamed Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHISC). Thirty-five of them had returned on Friday from a ten-day delegation to Colombia. The group shares concerns over current US policy towards Colombia, including escalating US military involvement in Colombias 40-year civil war, a highly controversial program of aerial fumigation of coca, and the human rights implications of training Colombian soldiers abroad and at the SOA/WHISC. During the vigil three of the delegates climbed a ladder over the gate and were arrested.
The three, Betsy Lamb, Sean Donahue, and Barbara Howe, are charged with trespass and destruction of property. Before crossing onto the base they held up signs bearing the words of a Colombian human rights activist they had met who had been tortured by an SOA graduate. I have said from the first day that I forgive him. If I saw him today I would embrace him. But I can only be fully reconciled to him when the SOA is closed, where he learned to leave me trembling forever.
SOA Watch and Witness for Peace sponsored the delegation. These groups hold that US military aid exacerbates violence in Colombia. Human Rights Watch and the US State Department have documented links between the Colombian military and illegal paramilitary forces responsible for 70% of Colombias civilian killings. Since the US began sending aircraft and on-the-ground training to Colombia in 2000, politically motivated killings have risen from 14 to 20 per day, and the number of kidnappings and disappearances has doubled.
Barbara Howe commented, What we heard over and over again is that US military aid only entrenches the poverty and escalates the violence and perpetuates the war in Colombia.
Colombia has sent 10,000 soldiers to the SOA/WHISC. The SOA/WHISC is a combat training school for Latin American soldiers. Its graduates are consistently involved in human rights 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 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 training and influencing Latin American militaries, remains the same.