Voices of Peace
I am among 43 people who have received letters that we are
to be tried in Columbus, Georgia, for "wilfully" crossing the line onto
Fort Benning property. Since 1984, 70 people have thus far served time in prison
for this and similar offenses. Others have engaged in lengthy fasts, while thousands
have participated in demonstrations, at Fort Benning, in Washington, D.C., and in
their local communities.
This movement to close the School was initiated in the 80's by a Catholic priest, Fr. Roy Bourgeois, and is deeply committed to the nonviolence philosophy of Gandhi and Martin Luther King. We take suffering - such as fasting and imprisonment - upon ourselves rather than inflicting it on others. We treat our adversaries with respect, while opposing atrocities and injustice as firmly, persistently and imaginatively as we are able.
This year I had considered participating in a civil disobedience action at Fort Benning, thus risking prison, but decided against it, because of slow healing from recent back surgery. However, we saw a newspaper article inviting the public to visit the school. Without considering the ban and bar letter I had received the previous year, I hopped in the van, only to be checked for identification at the entrance, arrested, processed and issued a "permanent" ban and bar letter.
SOA Watch staff, ex-prisoners of conscience, volunteer lawyers, and the 43, are gearing up to use strategies that will serve as indictments of the School. Why, we ask, are we who engage in relatively mild nonviolent actions, being given harsh prison sentences and fines, when dictators and military officers throughout Latin America, who are graduates of the School and have authored massacres, assassinations and torture, are allowed to walk free with complete impunity?
We believe the School, even though it has a new name and new administration, should take full responsibility for its part in the atrocities. For more information about the SOA, visit www.soaw.org
by Peg Morton
In November of 2000, I crossed the line into Fort Benning and received a 5-year ban and bar letter. Members of my affinity group draped ourselves in black and carried dolls, wrapped for burial, each one representing a child who was massacred in Guatemala in the early 1980's. We buried these dolls, wailing until the military police arrested us. I carried small rag dolls who represented the sibling and mother of a Maya Achi young man who I know personally. He was about 10 at the time of the 1982 Rio Negro massacre. His mother and all but one of his siblings were massacred. His father was killed earlier. He watched his baby brother be slaughtered. His community had protested the World Bank-funded Chixoy dam, that was to cover their and many other prosperous communities. The result was this and several other massacres. This was during the period of the dictatorship of General Lucas Garcia, who is a graduate of the SOA now WHISC. There is overwhelming evidence of military authorship of almost all (around 90%) of the massacres, assassinations, and disappearances of 200,000 people in Guatemala over a 30 year span. Yet these military officers have never been brought to trial. The SOA (WHISC) has never taken responsibility for its part in these massacres, nor has it stood behind those who would bring the authors to trial. My Maya Achi friend is attempting to secure justice in this regard and receives almost daily death threats.
I had planned to risk arrest, and prison, in November of 2001, but changed my mind because of slow healing from back surgery. I visited my brother-in-law, who served in the Navy in WWII and later in the reserves. He is heartsick, and does not believe his beloved country could have been involved in such atrocities. He urged me to visit the "new" School. When I learned that the School had issued an invitation to attend public workshops there, I hopped in our van, totally forgetting my ban and bar letter from November of 2000. We were stopped just over the line (instead of of just before it), and I realized I had broken by my ban and bar letter. A Catholic Sister and I were arrested and processed, and given "permanent ban and bar letters." Our arrest warrants indicate that we "willfully" crossed the line. This was not the case.
If I am sentenced to serve in prison, I will do so with the realization that no one who was massacred planned that. I will feel honored to stand beside those who are courageously working to bring the authors to trial.
I am a war tax resister, and not willing to voluntarily pay a fine to a government so deep in military slaughter and build-up. I would be quite willing to donate the fine to a worthy , life-giving cause, such as Afghan relief. I am a Quaker, and would be unwilling to promise not to cross the line again. I am committed in the best way I know how, to follow the leadings of the Spirit.
But, I must demand, why is the focus of the court system, and the military base, on those of us who nonviolently seek to draw attention to such a despicable history, when so many authors and perpetrators of massacres, assassinations, disappearances and torture throughout Latin America, walk freely and with complete impunity?
I am reminded that, as individuals, when we commit acts that are harmful to others, we are invited to confess openly, and to seek forgiveness. Institutions throughout history have authored atrocious crimes. As human beings, we are flawed. I would urge the United States Department of Defense, and the School itself, to publicly denounce its past involvement in Latin American atrocities, and to seek forgiveness. Authors and perpetrators must be encouraged to do the same and they must be brought to trial. In addition, the survivors of massacres, assassinations, torture and disappearance, must receive generous restitution, so they are truly able to find their way out of poverty. The policies of the U.S. government must abolish all participation in the slaughter of innocent people. We should truly seek economic instruments that lead to the alleviation of poverty around the world.
Postscript: Peg Morton and six others' cases have been dismissed. She will not have to travel to Columbus, Georgia. She wrote, "The lawyer is trying to get Sr. Roseann and me released from it, because we did not mean to do civil disobedience. Many others still face trial, which begins on July 8... Chani, a nineteen year old woman is the other Oregonian going to trial. We will do all we can to support them."
See Ms. Morton's other articles for more background:
Peg Morton's Letter to the Editor
Report from the SOA Vigil at Fort Benning in Georgia
Pilgrimage to Fort Benning
The Walk for Farmworker Justice