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Permit Granted for SOA Watch Funeral Procession After Legal Battle

Friday, Nov. 16- SOA Watch activist Bill McNulty gives the latest details on the legal struggles for this year's School of the Americas protest.
Columbus, GA. (IMC)--Nov. 16th-- In a webcast interview today at the IMC headquarters near Fort Benning in Columbus, Bill McNulty from the School of the Americas Watch (SOA Watch), clarified the recent legal battles between SOA Watch and the city of Columbus. Fort Benning, the home of the Western Hemispheric Institute for Security Cooperation (WHISC) (formerly known as the School of the America's), has been the site of protests by the SOA Watch for the past eleven years after it was discovered that many of the soldiers trained at the school were implicated in countless incidents of human rights violations and in Latin America.

SOA Watch staffers learned that the city of Columbus would not give a permit for this year's protest due to the heightened state of security at the base following the terrorist attacks on September 11th. After some negotiations the city decided to give a one day permit for the group to rally at a park several miles away from Fort Benning. Traditionally, the vigil is held for two days culminating in a massive civil disobedience action with funeral procession onto the base.

Negotiations between the two parties continued and word came out just this week that SOA Watch would recieve a permit for both Saturday and Sunday, but in the process of negotiations, it was decided that SOA Watch would not be allowed to hold a funeral procession from the park to the front gate. The city felt that a procession that long (the park is located 6 miles from the base) would constitute a safety hazard. This week the city said that the SOA Watch promised to not hold a procession at all. Representatives from SOA Watch said no, that they had promised not to procede from the park, but that they planned to procede from some point closer to the main gate.

On Thursday the 15th, the city named four members of the SOA watch, including founder Father Roy Bourgeois, in an injunction in the municipal court to prevent the procession at the main gate. Soon after the injunction was filed by the city, attorneys from the Just Cause Legal Group joined forces with the SOA Watch. The attorneys, citing the constitutional issues involved, argued that the case be moved to the federal court. The municipal court judge agreed.

On Friday, the case went before the federal court of Judge Faircloth, who had ruled previously against SOA Watch protesters arrested during last year's vigil, which included sentencing an 88 year old nun to jail. The early part of the day was spent in negotiations between the two parties to no avail. After hearing testimony, Judge Faircloth denied the injunction to stop the procession. He stated that SOA Watch's proposed action is protected by the constitution of the United States and by the Bill of Rights. Furthermore, he stated that if the military could not take care of itself without the help of the city, then it was in tough shape. Judge Faircloth addressed the city's claim that the current state of war warranted an injunction against the protest by concluding that we are not in a state of war since an act of congress is required for that. Bill McNulty called Judge Faircloth's decision "courageous".



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