Two prisoners at the Federal Prison Camp in Sheridan, OR, Eric Robison and Josh Raisler Cohn have declared an 18 day hunger strike to protest the continued existence of the School of the Americas. Robison (21 from Spokane, WA) and Raisler Cohn (24 from Portland , OR) have been imprisoned on 6 month maximum sentences along with 19 others for trespassing at Ft. Benning, GA, the home of this controversial combat training school.
Several of their codefendants will also be participating in the 18 day juice and water only fast from their various locations around the country. The fast will continue until November 18, the day thousands of citizens will gather at Ft. Benning to take part in a vigil and civil disobedience calling for the permanent closure of the SOA.
"This combat training school is a School of Assassins for Latin American soldiers, and we will continue to work, even from prison, until it is closed forever.," said Robison.
The purpose of the fast is threefold:
1. To remember the victims of violence perpetrated by U.S.
militarism, especially those in Latin America terrorized by troops trained at the SOA.
2. To call for a permanent closure of this School of Assassins.
3. To protest the imprisonment of political prisoners.
The U.S. Army school of the Americas was founded in 1946 in Panama and has been the center of controversy for decades. More than 60,000 Latin American soldiers have been trained in counterinsurgency warfare techniques
at the SOA. The school's graduates consistently use their skills to wage war against people in their own countries; those often targeted include school teachers, union organizers, religious workers and others who work for
the rights of the poor.
For example, Archbishop Oscar Romero was assassinated in 1980 by SOA graduates in El Salvador, and more than half of the hundreds of Colombian soldiers listed as human rights violators in a recent report were graduates of the SOA.
In 1996 the Pentagon released SOA training manuals that advocate the use of torture, extortion and execution targeted at civilian populations in Latin America.
Due to a growing citizen campaign in the U.S. the SOA almost had its funding cut in Congress last year, and a s result the Pentagon has changed the name of the school. Despite its new name, the Western Hemispheric Institute for Security Cooperation (WHISC) cannot distance itself from its horrific past. SOA supporter and Georgia Senator the late Paul Coverdel promised that the changes to the school would be "cosmetic" and that WHISC would continue to fill the function of the SOA.
Thousands are expected to participate in the vigil at Ft. Benning on November 18, 2001. The vigil commemorates the anniversary of the murders of 6 Jesuits, their coworker and her daughter by SOA graduates in El Salvador in 1989.
It is ironic and sad that as George W. Bush calls for an all out war against those that "inspire, support and finance" terror he has not closed the School of the Americas," said Raisler Cohn. "Millions of taxpayer
dollars are used every year to finance a training school for terrorists in our own backyard at the SOA."