Friday, February 02, 2007
The Trial of the Century
At the end of January, it was time to return to Columbus, Georgia, for me and for fourteen of my co-defendants. One of my co-defendants, Margaret, never left Columbus. On November 19th, which we found out was her birthday, she made the decision to go to jail, instead of posting bond so that she could be released from custody pending her trial.
On Monday, January 29, the fifteen of us and our supporters lined up at the Howard Johnson's to march to court. We carried crosses bearing the name of people who had been killed by graduates of the School of the Americas. Virginia Ward, mom of our co-defendant Grayman Ward, chanted the names of the dead, and we responded "presente," just as we had on November 19.
It was a cold morning but the sky was bright and clear.
At the steps of the courthouse/post office, we held a press conference. Five of us shared brief statements about what brought us to the other side of the Fort Benning fences.
Then it was time to enter the court for our trials.
The trials lasted just one day. All of us had a chance to say what we felt that we needed to say about WHINSEC/SOA. Grayman chose to sing his commentary about the judge. Judge Faircloth then commented on the singing... but, well, newspapers and magazines probably won't be calling or mailing him offers to take on the job of music critic. He also tried on the role of stand-up comedian. When he told us that we would have to pay a $10 assessment fee, he commented, "I don't know what that's for. Maybe it's for the entertainment of being here today." OK, that was a little bit funny. The debate between the the prosecutor, the defense attorney, and the judge about sentences for a few of the defendants, who had expired ban and bar letters, was somewhat entertaining, too, but I think that we might have been overcharged with that $10 admission fee. I would suggest to Judge Faircloth that he isn't ready to quit his day job. I chose not to offer that recommendation in court, however... or my fee for the entertainment might have been increased to $20!!!
Not all of the time in the court involved light entertainment, musical performances, and bad jokes, however. The court statements were serious and moving. Some of my co-defendants talked about personal experiences. Margaret Bryant-Ganer discussed the hardships of life in West Virginia, where mining companies have run amuck, and compared it to life in Latin America, where U.S.-trained military have run amuck. Tina Busch-Nema described an incident in Honduras, where she had been a missionary. She had come face to face with a death squad, quite accidentally. The death squads had guns and did not seem hesitant to use them. They did not use them that day. Tina talked about the fear that she experienced, both during the incident and after it. Val Fillenwarth talked about her grandson, Ben, who died in a car accident. She related the grief of a grandmother and the feelings of helplessness that her family experienced when Ben died. But, she said, that was an accident. In Latin America, U.S.-trained military kill people's children and grandchildren, and that is no accident.
My own court statement focused on the issues of freedom vs. security. I talked about losing my freedom to petition my government for a redress of grievances. Instead of speaking directly to governmental officials, in this case, the people who run the Western Hemisphere Institute of Security Cooperation, I was faced with barbed-wire-topped fences and police. When I tried to exercise my freedom of religion by placing a cross with the name of a 105-year-old Salvadoran man who had been killed on the grounds of Fort Benning, I was arrested. I concluded by reading a portion of the late Archbishop Oscar Romero's final homily in both Spanish and English.
Take a look at the SOA Watch website for information about the SOA 16, which includes biographical stuff, court statements, and sentences.
Margaret was released from jail following her trial. She related that her fellow inmates in the Muscogee County Jail told her that they enjoyed having her there with them but now it was time for her to go home. I was especially happy to see her in the courtroom for my trial.
I would like to express my thanks to my supporters, the attorneys, the SOA Watch staff, everyone who helped prepare us for the trial, for the food preparation crew, and to my co-defendants. In addition to the ones named above, I would like to mention Cathy Webster, Don Coleman, Phil Gates, Nathan Slater, Martina LeForce, Mike Vosburg-Casey, Melissa Helman, Julienne Oldfield, Whitney Ray, Josh Harris, and Sister Sheila Salmon. I am very grateful to all of my co-defendants for their witness.
The pictures and stories below are of trial preparation activities and are posted in no particular order. The red rose pictured above represents life. We all hope for a life in Colombia, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere that is free of war, violence, and repression.
For more pictures and stories about my Georgia trip, please take a look at my Alice's Grand Adventures blog by clicking onto the link on the left-hand side of this page.