Sisters march on “School of Assassins”

Thousands protest taxpayer-funded military training facility in Georgia

While prayers were recited Sunday in the Church of the Immaculate Conception at St. Mary-of-the-Woods College, thousands of protesters, including 13 Sisters of Providence, marched in Fort Benning, Ga.

This past weekend was the 13th annual Vigil and Nonviolent Resistance Action against the School of the Americas, now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.

“It was once again a wonderful gathering,” said Sister Kathleen Desautels on Sunday evening from Georgia. The only bad moments were on Saturday when the military blasted patriotic music toward the protesters, drowning their speech, she said.

It was “intimidation” and a “counter-terrorism tactic,” she said, adding it was similar to what the government did to former Panama dictator Manuel Noriega and the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas.

“That kind of behavior was not lost on the crowd,” Desautels said. “People went on. It was really hard and irritating.”

The music was turned off for Sunday’s demonstration, she said, adding the rumor mill indicated a Pentagon official ordered its end. Thousands of supporters also bombarded Fort Benning with e-mails and phone calls requesting the music end, Desautels said.

Almost 12,000 protesters turned out Sunday to protest the school, which trains Latin American military. The torture and murder of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her teenage daughter November 16, 1989, in El Salvador has been linked to its graduates, according to an investigation by U.S. congressmen.

Protesters hope to eventually bring about the closure of the school, which is U.S. taxpayer-funded.

At noon Sunday at St. Mary-of-the-Woods College, Sisters of Providence led a prayer service for those in Fort Benning, including staff and students of the college.

“We gathered … in solidarity with those at Fort Benning,” said Sister Rita Clare Gerardot, calling the facility the “School of Assassins.”

The service opened with a song about social concern, “We are called.” The beginning of the chorus illustrated the nuns’ mission in Georgia: “We are called to act with justice … .”

As they prayed and sang, the procession in Georgia to the gates of Fort Benning already had started.

It took about three hours to complete, Desautels said. Protesters, walking 10 abreast, held white crosses with the name of someone who was murdered, tortured or disappeared as they walked to the fence. Once there, they lifted the cross, shouting, “Presente!” before laying it down.

A group from Canada did a mock die-in near the Fort Benning sign, she said. “They looked like victims of torture, that was their purpose,” she said.

This weekend also marked her first return to the Army base since her arrest for trespassing at the 2001 vigil. She was released in March from the Greenville Federal Correctional Institute in Illinois.

“It was very emotional, quite honestly,” she said about her return this weekend. “I would have to say I had tears in my eyes more than once.”

This year, none of the Sisters of Providence crossed the line onto base property, she said, adding it has become more difficult to do so.

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
Tribune Star, USA
Nov. 24, 2003
Suzanne Risley

Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday November 26, 2003.
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