Protesters light fire to an upside-down U.S. flag in front of the security checkpoints set up to screen demonstrators entering the area in front of Fort Benning, near Columbus, Ga., on Saturday. Protesters say the military school fosters human rights abuses in Latin America.
Protesters Prep for Rights Rally
Sunday, November 17, 2002
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
COLUMBUS, Ga. -- Thousands of people attended workshops and religious ceremonies Saturday in preparation for a demonstration against a military school they say abuses human rights in Latin America.
The demonstration set for today will be the 13th annual protest outside Fort Benning by the School of the Americas Watch.
The protests were started because of the Nov. 16, 1989, killings in El Salvador of six Jesuit priests. Some involved in the killings had attended the Army's former School of the Americas, which moved to Fort Benning from Panama in 1984.
As many as 7,000 protesters took part last year, including 31 who entered the post illegally, carrying crosses and mock coffins to honor the victims of Latin American violence. Twenty-eight pleaded guilty or were found guilty of trespassing and some of those are still serving 6-month sentences.
The Army's School of the Americas was replaced last year by a new institution operated by the Department of Defense and supervised by an independent 13-member board that includes lawmakers, scholars, diplomats and religious leaders.
Officials say the new school, known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, still trains Latin American soldiers, but also focuses on civilian and diplomatic affairs. Human rights courses are mandatory.
Protest leaders say the change was only cosmetic, and they have promised to continue the demonstrations.