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Local Activist Sentenced in SOA Trespassing Case
Pittsburgher Tom Blancato was among protestors sentenced Wednesday on charges of trespassing at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHISC) in Fort Benning, Georgia. The protest, which occurs each year on November 17, is organized by the School of the Americas Watch and marks the 1989 killing of six Jesuit priests in El Salvador. The 2002 protest brought as many as 10,000 protestors to Fort Benning.

Many charge that WHISC, formerly known as the School of the Americas, is a training ground for terrorists sponsored by the United Sates government. The school was reopened under the current name in 2001, but Amnesty International and others argue that the change was merely cosmetic. Graduates of the school have been linked to human rights atrocities throughout Central and South America, including the murder of the six Jesuit priests in 1989. In 1996 the Pentagon admitted that training manuals used at the school advocated the use of torture, extortion, and execution.

In all, 85 protestors were arrested during the November 17 protests. Some of the demonstrators, who included priests, nuns, veterans, and students, chose to plea bargain rather than face a trial, but many of those who chose to go to trial were handled over just three days at a Federal court in Georgia.

Blancato, 40 years old with a family, received a sentence of 1 year of probation and a fine of $1,000 in addition to 250 hours of community service. Some received heavier sentences that included as much as six months of jail time.

[ Personal Account ] [ Complete list of sentences ] [ School of the Americas Watch ]

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