|18 enter pleas in Fort Benning protest|
COLUMBUS, Ga. - Eighteen of 37 protesters facing prison terms for trespassing on Fort Benning had their day in U.S. District Court on Monday.
Eight pleaded guilty and 10 entered pleas of innocent to trespassing charges but admitted by stipulation that they crossed onto the post. Thousands of protesters marched to Fort Benning's gates Nov. 18 to demonstrate against the former School of the Americas, a training school for Latin American soldiers that was reborn more than 18 months ago as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.
Those who were charged with crossing the gates said they were driven by conscience.
"I am very angry that it exists," said 23-year-old Brigid Conarchy about the school, which protesters allege trained soldiers who later committed atrocities. "It's very difficult for me to be proud of what goes on there."
U.S. Magistrate G. Mallon Faircloth presented the defendants with copies of the congressional acts that created the School of the Americas and later replaced it with the institute.
The change was brought about through the democratic process, Faircloth said, not by people who took the law into their own hands.
"I ask you to determine whether the democratic process has worked and is working," he said.
Court proceedings continue on Tuesday. At least five of the remaining 19 defendants are expected to demand bench trials, requiring federal prosecutors to present proof that they violated federal law by trespassing on Fort Benning property.
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