At the annual School of the Americas (SOA) protest and vigil at Ft. Benning, Ga., Nov. 21, 2004, the author and 14 others, including two minors, crossed the line onto SOA property to oppose the U.S. military training of Latin American assassination and torture squads that takes place there. She attended her first annual vigil just after Sept. 11, 2001. She was charged with criminal trespass and sentenced to 90 days in federal prison with a $500 fine. The following is her testimony at the trial. SOA was renamed “Western Hemsphere Institute for Security Cooperation” (WHINSEC) in 2001, but is still popularly known as SOA.
“If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have faith so as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.” (Corinthians, 13:1-3)
Your honor, I recognize this is not the language of the court and there would be those who would say I am a fool to use these words here today. But I have not come here to be clever but to be faithful, so as I speak here today may I be rooted in this love.
On Nov. 21 I handed over my body to the military officials of Ft. Benning. I crossed a line that this court and the military wishes to name a line of property, of law. 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 — then I will proudly bear the label of criminal and I will honorably go to prison. However I wonder if this truly represents the forces at play, the forces that bring all of us together here today. In crossing onto military property I did not simply trespass, I ended the silence that enshrouds practices of assassinations, kidnappings, torture and death. I challenged the lie that democracy and human rights take root and flourish when the seeds are bullets and the soil is innocent human life. And I upheld my duty as a citizen of this country to hold the government and my own tax dollars accountable for their impact on my fellow human beings, wherever they may live.
I do not believe we are gathered here today to ensure the protection of government property — prayer and witness does not threaten the integrity of physical property. Prayer and witness challenge the veil we continuously wish to draw between what we do and its lived consequences. Your honor, this courtroom today is filled with the presence of the thousands who have died and suffered as a direct result of the graduates of the School of the Americas. They are here because I am here, because you are here, because our very humanity is bound up in each other — wherever there is one hungry, dying, exploited, so are we. So let us not play at charges of property. We are gathered together today for something much bigger than the human laws which dictate rights of space. You are protecting much more than a piece of land. This court, the military, and the government are protecting egregious abuses of power. Power without accountability is mere brute force, and where is the wisdom or honor in protecting that?
Your honor, I claim no gifts of prophecy, nor the ability to comprehend all mysteries, but one does not have to be a prophet or a seer to look at the history or likely future of the School of the Americas and feel both shame and fear. We may try to abstract these deaths, this suffering, call them collateral damage, rebels, insurgency but somewhere someone bends over a grave or kneels to pray for the missing and wonders why no one ever seems to care. I am here then to care, to love, with my body, mind and soul and to offer my freedom for the chance that the prayers, anguish, and suffering caused directly by the School may finally come to a close, may be finished.
Liz Deligio is a theology student and SOA Watch activist from Chicago.