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Thousands demand closing of fort benning school { November 24 2003 }

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Thousands demand closing of controversial Fort Benning school
ELLIOTT MINOR, Associated Press Writer
Monday, November 24, 2003
2003 Associated Press

(11-24) 00:14 PST COLUMBUS, Ga. (AP) --

Ted Sexauer attended airborne school at Fort Benning before serving two tours as a medic in Vietnam. He returned to the Army post over the weekend -- this time as a protester.

Sexauer was one of 10,000 demonstrators who gathered outside Fort Benning on Sunday, angered by a military school for Latin American soldiers on the base and by the course of the war in Iraq.

The 57-year-old disabled veteran is concerned the United States is mired in another divisive conflict that will leave Americans wondering if the cost in young soldiers' lives is worth the price.

"It is obvious that this is as wrong a war as Vietnam," he said. "I feel for the soldiers who are there."

Protesters ranging from teenagers to senior citizens marched on the base as they do every November, demanding the closing of the school they blame for atrocities committed against the poor in Latin America.

"We are here to speak for them," said the Rev. Roy Bourgeois, a priest who founded School of the Americas Watch and has been leading the demonstrations for 14 years.

The Army school moved to Fort Benning in 1984 and was known as the Army's School of the Americas. Now it's under the jurisdiction of the Defense Department with a new name, the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.

"We oppose the violence generated by this school and Fort Benning soldiers. Our way is the way of love with our brothers and sisters who are victims of violence," Bourgeois said.

Bourgeois vowed to return every year until the school is shut down.

Brig. Gen. Benjamin Freakley, the post commander, said seven protesters were arrested for trespassing Saturday and one person was arrested for damaging government property after he spray painted Fort Benning's main gate.

William Quigley, a Loyola University law professor and legal adviser to SOA Watch, said another 30 to 40 protesters were arrested for trespassing Sunday. They face sentences ranging from probation to six months in a federal prison and a $5,000 fine.

While SOA Watch has a single focus -- the closing of the school -- it was evident from the banners and signs Sunday that many of the protesters, such as Sexauer, are concerned about the war in Iraq and the deaths of U.S. soldiers who are trying to stabilize the country.

"Life in a war zone is dehumanizing," said Sexauer, a member of a group known as Veterans for Peace. He said the troops went to Iraq thinking they would be treated as liberators.

"Instead, they're roughing people up," he said. "So my heart goes out to our younger brothers. I wish them luck with their healing."

Some protesters attended an open house at the Army school Saturday. The institute, according to its defenders, strengthens democracy and teaches soldiers and police officers their role in a democratic society.

"I find it somewhat frustrating that this group is trying to close an institution that is working for the same principals they are," institute commandant Col. Richard Downie said.

Columbus Mayor Bob Poydasheff said he found it repulsive for a group to hold a demonstration outside Fort Benning at a time when people have died in the war in Iraq.

"I don't deny them their right to demonstrate but don't do it when people at Fort Benning have died and are recovering from their wounds," the mayor said.

On the Net:
SOA Watch:

Western Hemisphere Institute:

2003 Associated Press

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