COLUMBUS, Georgia – You’ve seen him if you’ve been to a recent School of the Americas Watch Vigil at Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia. He is covered with solid colored clothing and paint that says, “Study War No More”. He holds a banner with the same mantra. He stands motionless during the reading of the names of those who have been killed in Latin America at the hands of soldiers who the School of the Americas Watch says studied at the School of the Americas. The School of the Americas was renamed the Western Hemispheric Institute for Security Cooperation in 2001. The School of the Americas Watch is a grassroots movement that members say nonviolently works to close the School of the Americas and to change U.S. foreign policy in Latin America.
In federal court today, Nashua Chantal said that he hadn’t planned to cross the gates that surround Fort Benning but that on November 18, 2012, he was overtaken by hearing the hundreds of names that are read each year at the vigilof those killed by graduates of the School. On that date, he climbed the barbed-wired fence surrounding the military installation, dropped onto the grounds of Fort Benning and was immediately arrested. He was charged with unlawful entry.
Outside of the courthouse in Columbus, Georgia today, supporters of Nashua Chantal included Ken Hays of Austin, Texas who also crossed the barriers around Fort Benning in 2009 and served a six month sentence, and Claire Hanrahan of Americus, Florida who crossed in 2000 and also served six months. Over 300 others have also served sentences for crossing barriers around Fort Benning. Hays told The Nation Report, “It’s difficult for me to talk about and it’s emotional for me to come back here, but I’m really proud of Nashua.” Hanrahan told The Nation Report that, “One act of conscience inspires another and I’m extremely moved to come back here today”.
Just before entering the courtroom alone, Chantal gave a statement to the press. “I’m here today to remind the School of the Americas of the blood that has been spilled in its name in its past, present, and future. We begin today to change our tomorrows.”
In the end, Magistrate Judge Stephen Hyles found Chantal guilty of unlawful entry. Supporters said that this was expected since nearly every protester before him has been found guilty. Center for Constitutional Rights attorney Bill Quigley who often represents cases involving human rights abuses, argued in court that a maximum sentence did not fit the act which he said was an act of civil disobedience accomplished “as peacefully as a person could possibly have done”. Hyles however did not deviate from sentencing practices in previous trials. Chantal received the maximum sentence of six months.
This month, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) will introduce legislation that if successful, would suspend operations at the School and in addition calls for the investigation of human rights abuses in Latin America.
Refufia Gaintan/The Nation Report