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Issue Date:  February 18, 2005

SOA protesters headed for prison

Sister, students among 14 charged with trespass at Army school

Columbus, Ga.

At her federal trespassing trial Jan. 25, Maryknoll Sr. Lil Mattingly told her story of 20 years as a missionary in Bolivia, some of it living “under the harsh dictatorship of Gen. Hugo Banzer”; time living in Nicaragua during the U.S.-backed contra war; and a 2002 trip to Iraq where many said their lives were forever altered by U.S. bombings and years of economic sanctions.

Mattingly, 63, also spoke of her friendship with four Maryknoll missionaries -- Srs. Ita Ford, Dorothy Kazel and Maura Clark, and lay missioner Jean Donovan -- all of whom were raped and murdered 25 years ago in El Salvador. Several soldiers implicated in their deaths were graduates of the U.S. Army’s School of the Americas, now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.

Federal Magistrate G. Mallon Faircloth gave Mattingly the maximum six-month prison sentence for trespassing at Fort Benning, Ga., Nov. 21 during the annual protest against the School of the Americas, which has trained scores of Latin American soldiers, many of whom were later charged with human rights violations in their native countries.

Mattingly was among 14 defendants who faced Faircloth over three days of trials and plea proceedings in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia. The judge sentenced 11 defendants to prison terms of three to six months with fines as high as $500. One other defendant received a year’s probation and a fine, and two Catholic high school students from Ohio were given deferred prosecution arrangements and ordered to perform community service. Faircloth allowed all 11 defendants to self-report to various federal prisons, a process that will likely take about six weeks.

As a reason for giving Mattingly the maximum sentence, Faircloth noted her prior trespass at Fort Benning in 2000, when she was not arrested, but did receive a “ban and bar” letter. Because Mattingly maintains a religious vow of poverty, Faircloth did not assess a fine.

In her testimony, Mattingly also spoke of the “Salvador option,” the term being used for a reported CIA plan, modeled after the U.S.-backed death squads once active in El Salvador, to assassinate insurgency leaders in and near Iraq.

“Can you see, Judge Faircloth, why we continue to peacefully protest and put our bodies on the line to bring attention to these injustices?” said Mattingly. She said that after years of joining demonstrations and contacting elected representatives to convince them to close the school, “I realized very few were listening and I needed to do something more.”

Mattingly said many U.S. citizens are “good and noble people,” but “so many are misinformed. The media is one source of the misinformation. Our administration is a great source of misinformation, and the people get frightened. And they’re being terrorized into hating others and that scares me terribly.”

When she emerged from the courthouse, Mattingly was met by applause from supporters, and greeted by several Maryknoll nuns and priests who came to Columbus for her trial.

Maryknoll Sr. Jean Fallon said the sisters at the motherhouse in Ossining, N.Y., helped prepare Mattingly for going to trial and prison.

“We forget that our church was founded on that kind of ministry where Jesus was,” Fallon said. “When he spoke the truth he was put in jail and killed. Paul was put in jail. All of our forefathers and foremothers suffered this same fate for their steadfastness to the Gospel.”

Several young people were also sentenced to prison, among them four college students. Faircloth refused to delay their 90-day prison terms until school ended. Seven of the 11 defendants were between ages 22 and 31.

The students included Brian De-Rouen, 27, and Meagan Doty, 22, both students at the University of Dayton in Ohio; Elizabeth Deligio, 28, of Chicago, a divinity student at Catholic Theological Union; and Elizabeth Nadeau, 27, of Minneapolis, a University of Minnesota undergraduate. The oldest defendant imprisoned was retired chemist Tom MacLean, 79, of Ashfield, Mass., who has heart problems and received a 90-day sentence in federal medical facility.

In her statement, Deligio said: “I stand before you charged with criminal trespass because I stood on military property and prayed for the countless lives lost and for the humanity each soldier must sacrifice in their own hearts to be these forces of death. Your honor, if this is what constitutes criminal trespass, prayer and witness, than I will proudly bear the label of criminal and I will honorably go to prison.”

Catholic Worker Dan Schwankl, 31, of Siler City, N.C., spoke of the friendships he had made with Latinos at St. Julia Parish.

“The factories are closing in my town,” he said. “All over the state, industry is leaving. The factories are going south because SOA grads have paved the way. They removed the unions. They disappeared the nuns and priests who worked for justice. They killed the workers who spoke out against the government. The result is a place where U.S. corporations can get cheap labor. This also results in a climate of fear and intimidation and a lack of true choices, forcing migration north.”

Schwankl, an organic farmer, likened the school to a diseased apple tree that year after year produces bad apples. “If the tree’s no good you don’t want to keep it around, for fear it might infect the others. Somehow the military hasn’t figured this out yet. They know they’ve got bad apples, but they need help in cutting down the tree.”

Patrick O’Neill is a freelance religion journalist living in Garner, N.C.

PR campaign calls for monitoring news, priest's travels

Testimony introduced during the federal trespass trial of peace activist Aaron Shuman documents an intricate U.S. Army plan to fight off criticism of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation and its predecessor, the School of the Americas.

Shuman, 32, who was convicted Jan. 26 and sentenced to 120 days in federal prison and assessed a $500 fine, conducted an interview two years ago with the institute’s public affairs officer Lee Rials. He told the court that at the time he was acting as a journalist. Rials provided Shuman with a copy of the institute’s “Strategic Communications Campaign Plan,” an ongoing public relations effort on the part of the Army to counter negative publicity about the Fort Benning, Ga., combat training school for Latin American soldiers. Many of the school’s graduates have been implicated in human rights abuses throughout Latin America.

Among other things, the plan called for extensive monitoring of news coverage of the school, as well as monitoring the travel schedule of Maryknoll Fr. Roy Bourgeois, the founder of SOA Watch, a group that has spearheaded a national grass-roots campaign to close the school.

“With this document you have this whole extensive plan from the school, up to the level of the Department of Defense, explicitly intended to ‘counter SOA Watch,’ ” Shuman said in an interview following his trial.

In a campaign document subtitled: “Solutions and Tactics,” specific tasks were listed, including:

  • Create a form letter to respond to public queries and criticisms;
  • Review of letters to the editor and op-ed pages, and submissions to counter SOA Watch efforts;
  • The “Road Show,” which Army spokesperson Gina DiNicolo told Shuman referred to monitoring Bourgeois’ travel schedule, with efforts to get an Army representative on the bill with the priest or in the same venue at a later date to present an opposing point of view.

Bourgeois, who said he has lectured in 44 states and abroad, said he has heard from people who hosted his talks that some were contacted by Army representatives asking for equal time.

A memorandum signed by Lt. Gen. James C. Riley and presented into evidence at Shuman’s trial described the challenge the institute faces in light of efforts to close the school. It said SOA Watch “claims a false cause-and-effect relationship between training at the now-closed U.S. Army School of the Americas and WHINSEC and the criminal acts of a few who have attended the school’s programs in the distant past.”

To counter this “negative political rhetoric,” the memo cited the need for “a consistent, programmed, proactive public affairs effort in direct support of the institute.”

The campaign also included a resources and budget entry of five listings totaling $246,000, including “media monitoring software” at a cost of $9,000 and a webmaster at a cost of $50,000.

A table called “an analysis of opinion/editorial pieces” relating to the school included the notations “negative,” “balanced” or “positive” and sometimes the words “close” or “reform,” in parenthesis to indicate what the editorial called for.

-- Patrick O’Neill

National Catholic Reporter, February 18, 2005

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