SLU to join in peaceful protest at SOA

Saint Louis University will once again participate in the annual protest of the former U.S. Army School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Ga.

The peaceful protest, which will take place on the weekend of Nov. 15, is a chance for more than 10,000 people from across the country to participate in a vigil remembering those killed by graduates of the school.

Harry O’Rourke, of Campus Ministry, and John Slosar, associate professor in the School of Social Service, led an informational session at the JUSTICE meeting Tuesday, Oct. 15.

The SOA, renamed The Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation by the Pentagon, is supposed to focus on human rights, democracy, peace-keeping and counter-narcotics training. However, the School of the Americas Watch would disagree.

The SOA, often dubbed School of the Assassins, was located in Panama from 1946 to 1984, with the purpose to train Latin American soldiers.

Under the Panama Canal Treaty, the SOA was forced to leave Panama and relocate to Georgia.

According to SOAW, the school trains “hundreds of soldiers in combat skills such as commando tactics, mine warfare, military intelligence and psychological operations.”

In 1996, the Pentagon revealed that the SOA used manuals advocating torture, execution and blackmail.

People first began noticing the SOA in 1989 when six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter were murdered at a Jesuit university in El Salvador, O’Rourke said. The murderers were graduates of the SOA.

In 1990, the first vigil was held at the gates of the fort.

“It is like a mock funeral procession,” O’Rourke said.

The non-violent protest should bring approximately 1,500 to 2,000 participants from Jesuit colleges, high schools, nonprofit organizations and churches.

While the event is peaceful, each year there are some people who choose to cross the line bordering the fort, subjecting themselves to a possible six-month jail sentence and a $5,000 fine.

In 2000, University President Lawrence Biondi, S.J., crossed the line and was arrested.

“We do not encourage those who come with us to engage in acts of civil disobedience,” O’Rourke said. “In fact, we discourage it.”

“It can have serious consequences,” Slosar said. Slosar and O’Rourke expect this year’s protest to have tight security, due to the terrorist events last year and the possibility of war this year.

The trip is open to all those affiliated with the University, but is limited to a total of 90 people; first come, first serve.

Those attending have the option of leaving either Thursday, Nov. 14 or Friday, Nov. 15.

The cost of the trip is $65 for those leaving on Friday and $75 for those who leave on Thursday. The price includes transportation and lodging. Students interested in attending can contact Campus Ministry.

Scholarships covering the cost of the trip are available to those in the School of Public Service.