By Jack and Felice Cohen-Joppa
Also watch video: Released prisoner describes US torture and murder at Guantanamo on PBSSIERRA VISTA, Ariz. -- More than 200 people rallied against torture on Sunday, November 16, at Veterans Memorial Park in Sierra Vista, Arizona. The group then processed two miles through the city to the main gate of Ft. Huachuca, home of the U.S. Army Intelligence Center where interrogators are trained.
Soon after the procession arrived opposite the entrance to the Fort, three people crossed the street and entered the base to deliver messages to base Commander Major General John Custer and his soldiers, opposing the cruel treatment and abuse of detainees from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Sr. Megan Rice, 78, from Las Vegas, Nevada; Fr. Louie Vitale, 76, from Oakland, California; and Dennis Duvall, 66, from Prescott, Arizona, were quickly stopped and taken into custody. They were released within the hour with a formal letter barring them from entering the base for one year. A base spokeswoman told reporters, "We're trying to keep this as low key as possible."
Franciscan Fr. Vitale, a former provincial of the order's Santa Barbara province, was arrested during a similar protest at the Fort in 2006. Together with co-defendant Fr. Steve Kelly, he had served a five month prison sentence for trespass and failure to obey an officer.
Two of three people arrested at the Fort in November, 2007, returned to join this year's demonstration. Fr. Jerry Zawada and Betsy Lamb had both served two months in prison awaiting trial.
Speakers at the rally included torture survivor and Colombian refugee Hector Aristizabal and retired U.S. Army Col. Ann Wright.
The procession was led by musicians Francisco Herrera, Jose Serrano, Ted Warmbrand, Chet Gardiner and Terry Pawlowski, along with people carrying large, colorful butterfly puppets. The puppets represented transformation from a nation that sanctions cruelty and torture to a world that embraces hope for humanity.
The demonstration concluded with a stop at the nearby office of CACI, a private military contractor implicated in the abuse of Iraqi detainees, and currently contracted to write manuals and teach interrogation.
Sunday's rally and procession capped a weekend of events that began in Tucson. Event coordinator Rev. Ken Kennon noted that the "Southwest Witness to Stop Torture is a regional action in solidarity with the campaign to close the School of the Americas/Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation at Fort Benning, Georgia, where the testimony of torture survivors has informed us and moved us to action."
Thousands of people will gather at Ft. Benning this coming weekend, November 21-23, for the annual vigil to close the School of the Americas. Human rights abuses in Latin America, including torture and murder, have been carried out by graduates of the school. The torture manual which was used at the School of the Americas came from Ft. Huachuca.
A statement written for the Ft. Huachuca demonstration follows this press release.
For more information see http://tortureontrial.org, http://southwestwitness.org and http://soaw.org
Why We Protest at Ft Huachuca
A Statement of Southwest Witness Against Torture / October 2008
Gandhi teaches us that nonviolence needs to be practiced in places of institutionalized violence.
We practice nonviolence at Ft. Huachuca - headquarters of U.S. Army military intelligence training - to protest the policy of cruelty our country has carried out against captives in the so-called "War on Terror."
We practice nonviolence at Ft. Huachuca to open dialogue with soldiers and commanders about their rights and obligations to report cases of torture and cruel treatment. We call on enlisted personnel to speak publicly about their training and any abuses they have observed.
We practice nonviolence at Ft. Huachuca to protest our government's increasing use of private contractors - with little to no oversight or accountability - both as instructors and as part of interrogation teams in the field.
We practice nonviolence at Ft. Huachuca to call for civilian, human-rights centered oversight of all interrogation training and practice, which must include absolute prohibition of cruel treatment and command responsibility for any violation of this prohibition.
Our nonviolent presence joins growing, deepening movements throughout the world calling for an end to war and torture everywhere. We act in solidarity with the campaign to close the School of the Americas/Western Hemispheric Institute for Security Cooperation at Ft. Benning, Georgia, where the testimony of torture survivors has informed our outrage and moved us to action. We know that torture diminishes the humanity of both perpetrator and those who are tortured. It damages the very soul of our country.
We are told that basic training in military interrogation at Ft. Huachuca respects the Geneva Conventions and follows the U.S. Army Field Manual. Yet, despite the efforts of many honorable soldiers and commanders who respect human rights, this training has been inadequate to prevent abuses of prisoners in U.S. custody at Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib and other military prisons and secret detention centers around the world.
What is being taught in the field and in advanced courses about interrogation? What is happening in this dark space between training and the field? Has the policy of cruelty practiced by some U.S. military, CIA, FBI, and private agencies been integrated into military doctrine and advanced training? Does such activity take place at Ft. Huachuca?
We understand that secrecy and deception are part of the nature of military intelligence. We challenge this institutionalized silence, because torture and cruelty betray not only the Constitution of the United States, but who we are as a people. In a democratic society, such silence must not prevail.
To break this silence, interrogators and all other personnel (including private contractors) must be taught when and how to resist illegal orders that violate the laws of war, the Geneva Conventions and the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. They must be taught their obligation to speak out against such orders, and to report abuses to their superiors. And they must receive guarantees that speaking out will not lead to retaliation or punishment.
Ft. Huachuca's role in past military involvement in torture training must also be brought to light. Such involvement includes the creation of notorious manuals used at the School of the Americas to teach Latin American military personnel how to torture. Undoubtedly, records about past and contemporary use of torture exist at Ft. Huachuca. We call for the release of all such information, both past and present.
It is time for a light to shine on the darkness that has been hidden behind the walls of Ft. Huachuca.
Monsignor Oscar Romero of El Salvador said, "Love begins where violence ends." To end the violence of torture and war we will stand at the gates of Ft. Huachuca. Together let's build a world without torture.