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15k protest soa { November 21 2005 }

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15,000 Gather To Protest WHINSEC
November 21, 2005

Protestors come to this area every year. They believe the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, or WHINSEC, teaches foreign soldiers to torture and kill people in their home countries. WHINSEC, formerly known as the School of the Americas, denies that claim.

On Sunday protestors took part in a mock funeral procession. A small group sang hundreds of names, while thousands of protestors answered "present." They say it's a way to remember all those who died in Latin America at the hands of SOA/WHINSEC graduates.

"I don't want it done here in my name," said one protestor. "This is done here and in the name of the United States."

This is the 16th year protestors, many of them college students, have gathered in front of Fort Benning. They want WHINSEC to close.

"They're trying to say we can't take responsibility for their actions," said Father Roy Bourgeois, founder of SOA Watch, an activist group based in Washington, D.C. "But you give a violent person a gun and then teach them the art of killing and they go and kill some people, there's this issue of complicity."

A WHINSEC spokesman says those accusations are offensive, and the school actually teaches democracy and human rights.

"What we actually do, as set by Congress, is we educate professional people in professional skills and we encourage cooperation, not only with the US, but among the countries that come here," said Lee Rials.

Most of the protestors don't believe that. Overcome with emotion, they leave crosses with the names of all those who have died on the main gate at Fort Benning.

"It's not to protest the soldiers, the troops, the people in the military," said Kate Graham, a protestor from Loyola University in Chicago. "People get confused with our intent. It's to show support for these people that are suffering at the hands of SOA grads."

A representative of SOA Watch says more than 40 people were arrested for trying to cross the gate into Fort Benning. Protestors say they will return every year until the school is closed.

By-Amanda Iler

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