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November Vigil 2015: Building a Culture of Justice and Peace PDF Print E-mail

Sunday, 11/22 at Fort Benning, GA

See video of the 2015 November Vigil

Sunday Vigil to Close the SOA

and more photos of the whole weekend on the SOA Watch Flickr

Saturday, 11/21 in Lumpkin, GA

#ShutDownStewart: video of the rally and march

From the SOA to the Border - No Mas MuertesThe #ShutDownStewart team led a powerful rally and 1.7-mile march to the Stewart Detention Center on Saturday. Speakers included family members whose family was torn apart by deportation, Mary Hooks from Southerners on New Ground, Silky Shah of Detention Watch Network, Maria Luisa Rosal from SOA Watch, and #ShutStewartDown organizer Anton Flores from Alterna Community. The march was led by those whose lives are directly impacted by our country's unjust, inhumane and racist immigration policies, and more than 1,000 marchers joined in.

Eleven protesters were arrested on misdemeanor charges of Obstruction of Justice for obstructing the injustices that take place daily at Stewart Detention Center. Ranging from ages 29-81, from states across the US, they are Mary Anne Perrone, Kevin Caron, Betsy Lamb, Moe Fitzsimmons, Rebecca Kanner, Kelvin Ho, Ann Havill, Beth Harris, Rita Lucey, Beth Rosdatter, and Bill Wertheimer. (photo, below and left, by Steve Pavey).

Eleven protestors arrestedAfter the movement supported them by paying $100 for each arrestee, all were released and all charges dismissed within an hour of negotiations with the Sheriff and Magistrate Judge.

Thank you to all who donated to support those who take risks by using their bodies to cross lines and fences in solidarity with our sisters and brothers.

We do not forget that while we celebrate the release of our 11 comrades, thousands of men continue to be held unjustly, in terrible conditions inside Stewart. We will not stop until we #ShutStewartDown! and not one more family is divided by our country's barbaric practices.

Friday, 11/20 in Columbus, GA (See More Photos Here)

Activists arrived from Mexico, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Venezuela, Panama and around the US to gather for the first workshops in the 2015 Vigil, exploring resistance to US empire. Georgia Peace and Justice Coalition presented Why We Must #ShutDownStewart to get us ready for Saturday’s march to the Stewart Detention Center, discussing the intersections of racism, militarism, and mass incarceration that are embodied at Stewart and other detention centers throughout the US.

National Religious Campaign Against Torture screened Breaking Down the Box, exposing the torture of solitary confinement in the context of mass incarceration in the US. Two of the victims of the right-wing extremist violent attempts to overthrow the democratically-elected government discussed the Struggle Against Impunity in Venezuela. Pax Christi USA hosted a discussion led by youth organizers for the Dream Act in NJ, and SOA Watch activante Jonathan González Quiel spoke on human rights and militarism in Panama.

Two members of the jury of the International Tribunal of Conscience on Mexico on the anniversary of the disappearance of the students from the rural teacher’s school in Ayotzinapa were featured in a workshop on Mexico’s Crimes Against Humanity and the Complicity of the US. And SOA Watch LA screened Testimony: The Maria Guardado Story, shared personal remembrances and also poetry from Maria’s newly released (bilingual) book of poems, Quisiera Escribir Cosas Bellas.

We heard a report-back on the Colombian Peace Process from Witness for Peace, and from organizers in Costa Rica and Mexico about mining, militarization and the disappeared. NETWORK Lobby shared an analysis of 2015 congressional legislation, and another workshop discussed how early Christianity was co-opted and transformed into a violent, patriarchal tool of empire.  SOA Watch leaders also led Peacemaker, Legal Observer, Nonviolent Direct Action and Legislative trainings, and packed the house for an exciting opening plenary that closed out the transformative evening.

Join the 2015 November Vigil PDF Print E-mail

Vigil at the gates of Fort Benning, Georgia - March to the Stewart Dentention Center - Workshops - Concerts - Strategy Sessions - Puppetista Pageant - Grassroots Movement Building

Click here to visit the November Vigil mobilizing page!
Exposed: FBI Surveillance of School of the Americas Watch PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 12 November 2015 00:00
Exposed: FBI Surveillance of School of the Americas Watch
by Mara Verheyden-Hilliard of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund

FBI used counter-terrorism authority to track pacifist human rights group for 10 years

For a decade, the FBI flagrantly abused its counter-terrorism authority to conduct a widespread surveillance and monitoring operation of School of Americas Watch (SOAW), a nonviolent activist organization founded by pacifists with the aim of closing the U.S. Army’s School of the Americas (now renamed) and ending the U.S. role in the militarization of Latin America.

Hundreds of pages of documents obtained by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund, on behalf of SOAW, once again reveal the FBI’s functioning as a political surveillance and intelligence operation and its use of its domestic terrorism authority against peaceful protest in the United States.

SOAW organizes annual protests in Fort Benning, Ga., the site where the U.S. Army has trained many of the military leaders and dictators in Latin America who were responsible for massacres of opposition forces and the creation of torture centers, among other crimes against humanity. The training at the SOA is ongoing and the graduates of the institute continue to engage in extrajudicial executions and the repression of social movements in countries like Chile, Colombia, Honduras and Mexico.

SOAW’s mission and proven track record are peaceful. Yet the FBI deployed its “domestic terrorism” resources, reported to the “Counterterrorism Unit” and reached out to the Miami Domestic Intelligence Terrorism Squad. It used confidential informants inside the movement to collect information. The FBI’s headquarters and counter-terrorism units were requested to provide the FBI’s Field Office in Atlanta with “all intelligence relevant to the SOA, so that this information can be provided to local/military law enforcement agencies.”

Tracked despite 'peaceful intentions'

A review of 10 years of redacted documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund on behalf of the SOAW show that, year after year, the FBI acknowledged that the organizers and the activities of the group were peaceful. And year after year, the FBI continued to keep its case open with claims that it was possible that there could be “more aggressive protest participants” or “factions of a radical cell” or other such pretextual alarmist warnings to justify its spying on protected First Amendment political activity.

The documents have been made public and are searchable at

In 2005, FBI reports admitted “the peaceful intentions” of the SOA Watch leaders but justified its work on the basis that “a militant group would infiltrate the protestors and use of the cover of the crowd to create problems.” Yet they admitted that “At this time, there are no specific or known threats to this event.”

The vague, unspecified threat of future violence functioned as the annual excuse for the surveillance of peaceful dissent. Under this logic of counter-terrorism law enforcement activity, all constitutionally protected peaceful protest carries the seed of potential terrorism — we are all potential terrorists.

This pattern of significant surveillance, allusions to violence and then reports of peaceful activity after the fact continued for years.

Mass arrests and Confidential Informants

The protests for many years involved thousands of people, and included arrests for peaceful, organized, nonviolent civil disobedience. Law enforcement described the mass arrests of 1,700 protesters in November 2000 as arrests for “acting in an overt manner.” This included “wearing masks, coffins, puppets or pouring the red substance upon themselves."

In 2006, Confidential Informants provided information about planning events in Massachusetts, and the numbers of buses coming from around the country. The FBI obtained shelters and command centers "at no cost" from real estate companies to work on logistics for the protest, which was again labeled an FBI “Special Events Readiness Level.” Later they reviewed the 2006 protest as “uneventful” and came to a similar assessment for 2007.

In 2008, undercover FBI agents traveled with protesters to the event to follow the activities of several “subjects of FBI-Minneapolis” although they had “never expressed or exhibited a propensity for violence.”

The FBI used Confidential Informants who dutifully reported on the planned schedule of activities for the protests, the names of organizers, including a person “who is or was a Maryknoll nun,” and the name of a legal advisor to SOAW. The legal advisor, whose name was redacted but is otherwise identified with Loyola University, is evidently renowned human rights lawyer Bill Quigley.

By 2009, after 10 years of surveillance, the FBI admitted “there has never been any significant incidents of violence or widespread property damage.” Describing the demonstrations more as a “street festival,” they finally closed the case.

FBI's operating practice of political surveillance

In 2012, the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund uncovered hundreds of documents exposing that the FBI was treating the Occupy movement as a potential criminal and terrorist threat even though the agency similarly acknowledged in its own reports that organizers explicitly called for peaceful protest and did “not condone the use of violence.”

The PCJF obtained heavily redacted documents showing that FBI offices and agents around the country were in high gear conducting surveillance against the movement even as early as August 2011, a month prior to the establishment of the OWS encampment in Zuccotti Park and other Occupy actions around the country.  

Other documents obtained and released by the PCJF demonstrated that the Department of Homeland Security and the sprawling network of Fusion Centers in the United States similarly expended huge resources monitoring, tracking and reporting on peaceful, lawful and constitutionally protected protest activities.

The FBI has recently been further exposed as monitoring and tracking, including through surveillance aircraft, the activities of the Black Lives Matter movement in cities around the United States.

Unlearned lessons and unfinished work of the Church Committee

In the mid-1970s, the Church Committee of the United States Senate conducted an investigation into U.S. intelligence agencies’ abuse of law enforcement authority to target First Amendment activity and peaceful organizing through investigations, surveillance and disruption. As a result of the disclosures of the Committee, the FBI was required to enact restrictions on the use of its intelligence and law enforcement powers, prohibiting investigations into non-violent free speech activities. While Congress could have enacted binding legislation, the U.S. Attorney General was allowed to promulgate guidelines instead — guidelines that have been watered down by successive administrations over the past 40 years.

These repeated revelations of the FBI unconscionably abusing its counter-terrorism authority against peaceful political movements — from SOAW to Occupy to Black Lives Matter — make it clear that the FBI cannot be its own watchdog or self-regulate. It makes it clear that surveillance, monitoring, tracking and infiltration of peaceful social justice movements is a programmatic, institutionalized and ongoing effort of the FBI. It is time for there to be legislatively enacted prohibitions on the FBI’s use of domestic terrorism authority against peaceful protest and First Amendment-protected free speech activities in the United States.

It is a fundamental right of the people to organize, to assemble, to speak and to peacefully demand change in U.S. policies and practices — without monitoring and investigation from the government’s domestic terrorism agencies. Democracy and the Constitution require no less.

Converge on Fort Benning from November 20-22

SOAW activists from across the Americas are not intimidated, and will once again take a stand at Fort Benning, Georgia, from November 20-22 to speak out against repressive U.S. policies, and to engage in nonviolent direct action. The SOAW Legal Collective will provide legal support and monitor police activities, to ensure that the family-friendly, permitted demonstrations will be safe for everyone.

Last Updated on Saturday, 21 November 2015 11:16
HR 1232 - Stop Militarization of the U.S. PDF Print E-mail
Written by Arturo J. Viscarra   
Thursday, 21 May 2015 11:18

Militarization is bad for Latin America and bad for the United States:

Support H.R. 1232, the Stop Miliarizing Law Enforcment Act - the first domestic legislation that SOA Watch has officially endorsed.

SOA Watch has long opposed U.S.-supported militarization in Latin America, due to its proven correlation with increased human rights violations by Latin American armies and police forces. The frightening face of domestic U.S. militarization in response to protests in Ferguson, Baltimore, and other places has also proven that we in the U.S. are also at risk of brutal, heavy-handed, and intrusive "policing" that stifles dissent and erodes other fundamental human and civil rights.

Ask your Representative to cosponsor HR 1232, The Stop Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act.

We have for the first time officially supported and lobbied for domestic legislation in the last few months, including the Spring Days of Action: HR 1232, The Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act, sponsored by Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) would severely limit the types of equipment the Pentagon could transfer to local police under the "1033" Program, preventing transfers of high-caliber weapons, armored military vehicles, weaponized drones, long-range acoustic devices, grenade launchers, and grenades or similar explosives in most cases.

President Obama recently announced an Executive Action limiting some types of Pentagon transfers to local police, but it is not enough. In fact, we now have even more momentum to keep pushing for deeper protections against further domestic militarization.

Weapons manufacturers, the Pentagon, and irresponsible police departments and others that are militarizing the U.S. need to know that we are going to step up the fight on this fundamental issue through research, education, organizing, grassroots lobbying, and other methods. We must do so quickly to avoid the plight of so many Latin Americans - having to deal with military or militarized police, and the fear that it instills, on a regular basis.

SEND an email to your Representative to cosponsor of HR 1232, The Stop Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act.

ORDER a set of Advocacy Postcards in support of HR 1232, The Stop Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act.

Last Updated on Thursday, 21 May 2015 17:38
We are Winning! PDF Print E-mail
Written by Hendrik Voss   
Monday, 18 May 2015 17:43

Following the militarized police repression against the anti-police brutality protests in response to the August 9, 2014 police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, SOA Watch and other social justice organizations campaigned against the transfer of military equipment to local police departments.

In what amounts to a victory for the power of grassroots pressure, President Obama is going to announce today, that the federal government will no longer provide heavy military equipment like tanks and grenade launchers to local cops. Let's build on the momentum, and on the public support for demilitarization initiatives! Click here to tell Congress to take a stand and to pass the Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act

As a movement organization that is working towards justice and self-determination for all, SOA Watch's advocacy work supports reform measures that limit the ability of state security forces to impose their will on communities, be it in the United States or Latin America.

Let's keep the pressure on for the demilitarization of our world, our hemisphere, and our lives! DonateCan you make a generous donation now, to build on this victory and to help grow our ability to impact policy decisions? Together we can change the culture of violence and domination, and create a culture of justice and peace. Please support the work with a financial contribution

After 2 Years: Megan, Michael and Greg have been Released from Federal Prison

We are also celebrating the release of three of our friends from federal prison this weekend! Former SOA Watch Prisoners of Conscience Megan Rice and Michael Walli, and Greg Boertje-Obed were released on Saturday, after the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati last week overturned their 2013 sabotage convictions and ordered re-sentencing on their remaining conviction for injuring government property at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge. Transform Now PlowsharesThe Transform Now Plowshares activists had already served 2 years in federal prison for their disarmament action at the Y12 Nuclear Weapons Complex in Oak Ridge, TN to protest plans for a new multibillion dollar nuclear bomb plant there. Megan was originally sentenced to nearly three years and Michael and Greg were each sentenced to just over five years. Welcome home Megan, Michael, and Greg: We are looking forward to continuing the struggle together with you on the outside!

Maria GuardadoRest in Power María Guardado

Amid these victories, we also have deep sadness in our hearts. Our compañera María Guardado passed away on Saturday. She was a fighter for justice and will be dearly missed.

María Guardado was a local activist who protested against the US-supported military regime in El Salvador during the ’70s and early ’80s that killed more than 80,000 civilians and kidnapped and tortured many others. On June 12, 1980, she was kidnapped, raped, and brutally tortured by graduates of the School of the Americas. In 1983, she was granted political asylum in the US, where she continued her activism, protesting the US government’s support of Salvadorian regime.

La Lucha Sigue! The Struggle Continues!

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