After having lunch with family and supporters, Cathy Webster of Chico, CA turned herself in at the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Facility in Elk Grove today to spend 60 days behind bars and high security fences for a simple trespassing charge at last November’s protest at the U.S. Army’s School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia.
Webster hugged her daughter, Stephanie Tarrago, and her grandchildren, Alicia and Alejandro, before two Sacramento County Sheriffs Deputies escorted her into the jail. Meanwhile, Chico and Sacramento area supporters, including Grandmothers for Peace and other peace advocates, sang “This Little Light of Mine,” and “Down by the Riverside.”
Webster trespassed on the U.S. Army base to protest the teaching of counter-insurgency techniques and torture to Latin American soldiers that return to their home countries and commit atrocities, including massacres of women and children. In the same spirit as the civil rights movement, she used non-violent civil disobedience to shine a spotlight on the teachings of the school, renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) in 2000.
“The soldiers that are trained at the SOA are not defending their country, but are killing civilians for corporate greed and domination,” said Webster. “They go back to their countries to kill and torture their own people. The graduates of this school are among the worst human rights violators in Latin America.”
She participated in the annual protest and vigil along with 22,000 others, including 1000 Grandmothers in the annual protest and vigil.
The short-term goal of Cathy Webster's action and of organizations around the country is to educate Americans about the Army school, known as the “School of the Assassins” throughout Latin America. The long-term goal is the pressure Congress to pass legislation to de-fund the school and close it permanently. A vote in Congress is expected in May.
“I stepped onto military property with other protestors and was arrested for unauthorized trespassing,” explained Webster just minutes before turning herself in. “I was fully aware that I what was involved when I walked onto military property."
Webster was going to jail on the day before a Congressional vote on supplemental funding to continue the Iraq war and occupation was expected. "We need to cut the funds so we can stop a war that has been waged without any just cause," she stated. "So many innocent Iraqis and our soldiers have been killed and wounded since Bush began the war 4 years ago. I hope that our Congress Members get brave and speak up against the funding."
The 62-year-old grandmother was one of six activists who reported to prisons throughout the country on March 21. Webster, Melissa Helman, Alice Gerard, Philip Gates, Joshua Harris and Graymon Ward are part of the sixteen who brought the protest against the SOA/WHINSEC and U.S. foreign policy onto Fort Benning this past November at the Vigil to Close Down the SOA. Eight other defendants have received their notices to report to prison on April.
Katherine Whitney Ray, 17 years old, was sentenced to one year of probation and 50 hours of community service and Margaret Bryant-Gainer was released after serving 71 days in Muscogee County Jail after refusing to post bail on November 19, 2006, according to SOA Watch.
Webster said that this is the first time she has ever been to jail, but she was resolute and in good spirits as she checked herself in.
“I feel no anxiety (other than leaving my family behind), nor shame,” said Webster. “I do feel resolute in calling to peoples’ attention what our taxes are paying for, and thus what we as a nation are participating in. As a prisoner of conscience, I am in good company, stretching back centuries.”
Webster said she would also also be participating in and promoting the Close The SOA Fast, April 25-27. This is a juice/water only fast for three days in anticipation of a May vote in Congress to defund the SOA/WHINSEC. Lobbying Congress has been a year round effort for sixteen years.
“The Fast is to create more energy in our cosmos to encourage Congress to do the right thing. I hope and encourage you to participate as well,” she added.
After she was taken way by the deputies, Lorraine Krofchok, director of Grandmothers for Peace, commented, “I find it amazing that Cathy is going to jail for standing up for human rights while our Congressman, Dan Lungren, votes for torture.”
“I feel proud of my mother,” said Stephanie Tarrago, “and I feel no anxiety that she is going to jail for a cause that she believes so strongly in. We will be supporting her at home throughout her jail term.”
Webster said she will be sending letters to be posted on the 1000grandmothers website and hopefully calling into local radio stations during her stay.
The SOA/WHINSEC made headlines in 1996 when the Pentagon released training manuals used at the school that advocate torture, extortion and execution. Despite this admission and hundreds of documented human rights abuses connected to soldiers trained at the school, no independent investigation into the facility has ever taken place.
New research confirms that the school continues to support known war criminals and human rights abusers. Despite having been investigated by the United Nations for ordering the shooting of 16 indigenous peasants in El Salvador, Col. Francisco Del Cid Diaz returned to SOA/WHINSEC in 2003.
Notorious graduates of the school include the “born-again butcher” General Rios Montt, who conducted a war of genocide against the Mayan population of Guatemala that resulted in wiping 626 Mayan communities off the map, and Hugo Banzer, the brutal dictator of Bolivia.
“Prison witness has been a core element of the SOA Watch movement since its beginning,” according to a press release from SOA Watch. “In the tradition of Gandhi, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King Jr., Aung San Suu Kyi and countless others, SOA Watch activists have used peaceful, nonviolent resistance to expose the horrors of the SOA/ WHINSEC and to express solidarity with our sisters and brothers in Latin America.”
As a result, 211 SOA Watch human rights defenders have collectively spent over 92 years in prison. Over 50 people have served probation sentences.
“Their sacrifice and steadfastness in the struggle for peace and justice provide an extraordinary example of love in action and have given tremendous momentum to the effort to change oppressive U.S. foreign policy and to close the SOA/ WHINSEC,” according to SOA Watch.
Dan Bacher is an outdoor writer, alternative journalist and satirical songwriter from Sacramento, California. He is editor of the Central America Connection and contributes to numerous publications and websites, including Dissident Voice, CounterPunch, Because People Matter and the Sacramento News & Review. He can be reached at: email@example.com.
To send Webster letters in prison, mail to:
Catherine M. Webster X-4310736
Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center
12450 Bruceville Road
Elk Grove, CA 95757
To visit her, contact http://www.sacsheriff.com/inmate_information/index.cfm
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