Jail begins for SOA protesters

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – “I still believe, even after being degraded, yelled at, groped and shackled in chains, that each American can make a difference. We can close this school for terrorists.”

So said Leisa Faulkner Barnes, one of 27 human rights activists who recently stood trial for their participation in last November’s demonstration against the School of the Americas (SOA) at Fort Benning, Ga. She spoke to the World just days before reporting to a federal prison in Dublin, Calif., where she will be serving a three-month sentence for “crossing the line” at the military base, a notorious U.S. center for training Latin American soldiers in torture and assassination techniques.

Barnes, 49, is a single mother of five sons. A resident of Sacramento, she is a California State University student and a founder of Campus Peace Action. Along with 17 others across the country, she reported for prison on April 6.

At least 12,000 people took part in the demonstration. Amnesty International has charged – and the Pentagon finally admitted in 1996 – that training manuals used at the SOA advocated torture, execution and blackmail. Hundreds of graduates of the SOA have been implicated in many of the worst atrocities in the Western Hemisphere – the murder of bishops, priests and nuns, of labor leaders, women and children, community workers.

As a result of increasing public knowledge and outrage at the SOA, Congress closed the school in 2000 and reopened it in 2001 under its current name, Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.

Two days after her sentencing, Barnes was allowed to tour the school. While talking with the instructor of the course in “American Democracy,” she asked him, “What would you say to students about the killing worldwide of 217 union organizers?” His answer was, “Maybe it was justified.”

The School of the Americas Watch, a national faith- and conscience-based group founded in 1990 that is committed to closing the base, has urged supporters to lobby their congresspeople to sponsor HR 1258, a bill that would permanently close the school. For more information, visit www.soaw.org.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org.