For the second year in a row, a federal court in Columbus, Georgia, has sentenced activists to six-month prison terms for trespassing on the US Army’s Fort Benning base during protests against the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), formerly the US Army School of the Americas (SOA). This is the maximum sentence for the offense, and US federal magistrate G. Mallon Faircloth surprised observers when he imposed the penalty on three activists in January 2010.
Four of the activists arrested during the most recent protest—the 20th annual demonstration, held last Nov. 20—have received six-month sentences. Father Louis Vitale and Michael Omondi were sentenced after making a no-contest plea in November, and Nancy H. Smith and Christopher Spicer were sentenced by US Magistrate Stephen Hyles on Jan. 5. This is the third time Father Vitale has served time in jail for participating in the protests against SOA, which trains Latin American soldiers. SOA Watch, which sponsors the protests, says SOA graduates are among the region’s most notorious human rights violators.
Information on sending letters of support to the jailed activists is available at http://www.soaw.org/about-us/pocs . (SOA Watch, Jan. 5; Bryan County, Georgia, News, Jan. 6, from AP)
From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Jan. 16.
See our last post on WHINSEC/SOA.