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Support urged for SOA prisoner

Rebecca Kanner of Ann Arbor, one of 26 School of the Americas protesters convicted of criminal trespass last summer, is serving a six month sentence at the Women's Work Camp in Pekin, IL. Prison officials appear to have singled her out for harassment, including increasing her mandatory work week from 40 hours to 60. Support the effort to end Rebecca's harassment.
I am writing on behalf of Rebecca Kanner (Ann Arbor, MI), one of the 26 School of the Americas protesters who were convicted of criminal trespass last summer. Rebecca received a six month sentence and a $500 fine and is


currently serving her sentence at the Women's Work Camp in Pekin, IL. She is due to be released in January.





My wife and I had the opportunity to visit Rebecca last weekend, and I am happy to report that she is in good spirits. However, she feels that she is receiving some targeted harassment due to her unwillingness to give up


certain rights to which she feels even prisoners are due.





If you are familiar with prison culture, every attempt is made on the part of virtually all prison administrators to be arbitrary, dissembling and vague, so as to remove any sense from the prisoners that they can in any way


control their own fate. Because of the nature of prisons and how they are viewed in American society, very little sympathy is generated for prisoners even with the most egregious violations of prisoner's rights. Prisons


operate in secrecy, and with virtually no accountability. (By the way, the United States currently has more individuals incarcerated or otherwise under control of the criminal justice system than any country in the history of the world.)





Rebecca feels that prison administrators' accountability needs to be called into question and is willing to risk further discomfort for herself in order to do this. Her sentence cannot be extended, and the worst that will happen is that she could be transferred to the local county jail for the rest of her sentence, where conditions are much more uncomfortable.





Nevertheless, she requests that we all write to the warden at the Pekin facility to request that Rebecca not be singled out for harassment. More specifically, she was given an extra 20 hours of work duty (on top of her normal 40 hrs./wk.) and was threatened with removal of visitor and phone privileges for "having dust on her bed". She has thus far been moved 5 times, has had books and other personal possessions removed, and has apparently been singled out for harassment by the administration.





Certainly no one would suggest that she has been a model compliant prisoner--the wonderful qualities which moved her to cross the line at SOA and incur arrest did not disappear in the prison environment. However, on the other hand, when individual and collective rights are respected, I have


certainly found Rebecca to be extraordinarily cooperative and helpful. To introduce you to her a bit better, I have attached her Trial Statement below.





Rebecca requests that we write to Warden Compton, Box 7000, Pekin, IL 61555-7000 and ask that he treat Rebecca according to the same rules he uses with the other prisoners at Pekin. She would like her personal


belongings to be returned and to be treated with the same flexibility accorded to other prisoners.





Peace,





Bill Thomson





************************************************************Trial Statement of Rebecca Kanner US District Court for the Middle District of Georgia, Columbus Georgia, G. Mallon Faircloth, US Magistrate Judge May 22, 2001








My name is Rebecca Kanner and I was born in 1957 in Cleveland Ohio. I received a mechanical engineering degree from Ohio State University and moved to Ann Arbor, MI to work at the US EPA's Motor Vehicle Emissions Lab.





Now I work as an environmental educator for a non-profit environmental organization, going into classrooms, teaching children how they can make the earth a cleaner, healthier and safer place for everyone.





When I was growing up, I learned a deep lesson from my rabbi that I try to follow in how I live my life. I didn't learn this life lesson at my synagogue - I learned it at school. My ninth grade civics teacher presented a sermon by my rabbi as part of the lesson plan on how to be a good citizen. This sermon talked about the rights and responsibilities of all citizens, listing ways that each one of us must act to ensure our democracy continues. The first step was voting and other steps included attending public meetings and writing our elected officials. Now, almost 30 years later, I of course don't remember all the steps listed or even how many there were but I do remember the final one and that was non-violent civil disobedience. I wasn't surprised to hear this message from my rabbi.





I knew that Rabbi Lelyveld had been arrested and terribly beaten for his work in the civil rights movement in Mississippi in 1964. So I wasn't surprised that my rabbi would give a sermon advocating civil disobedience as one of the actions that may be required of us to preserve our democracy. What did surprise me was that my civics teacher would teach us at my public junior high school that sometimes breaking the law was a viable action by concerned citizens to protect our democracy. My respected teacher taught us that in severe cases it was ok, in fact it is our responsibility to break the law. So when I crossed the line at Ft. Benning (in 1997, 1999 & 2000), I was practicing a lesson that I learned in school.





When I made the serious decision each time to participate in a direct action to close the School of the Americas (SOA)/now the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHISC), I was inspired by the Jewish concept of tikkun olam - translated from the Hebrew, this means the just ordering of human society and the world - or more literally, the repair of the world. I was also inspired by the Jewish prophetic tradition of social justice. As a Jew, I am moved to work to repair the tragic consequences of the SOA/WHISC.





The three times I crossed the line at Ft. Benning, I have felt what the Jewish theologian and philosopher Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel felt when he marched together with Martin Luther King out of Selma. He believed that the it was a day of sanctification, filled with spiritual significance and he felt as though his legs were praying. I was praying with my feet during those holy moments as we gathered together to do tikkun olam at Ft. Benning.





This trial is not about if I crossed that line at Ft. Benning or not - I did cross it. Rather this trial is about bringing truth to the lie that SOA/WHISC helps Latin American governments to promote stable democracies. This is an obscene lie. The opposite is the truth. When Panama kicked the School of the Americas out of its country in 1984, the president declared that the SOA is "the biggest base for destabilization in Latin America."





This School is funded by our taxes. Graduates of the School/Institute use the tactics learned, in courses taught by the US Army, against their own people. The victims of SOA graduates are those working for a better life - working for land reform, for better wages, for adequate housing and health care for the poor - and the victims of the SOA graduates are those just trying to simply live.





Over the years, we've learned that SOA graduates have been responsible for countless atrocities. The movement to close this School of Assassins has forced the Pentagon to make cosmetic changes to "reform" the School, even changing its name. But we know that past "reforms" have not worked and this latest "reform" is not the answer. The atrocities continue: in Guatemala with the 1998 murder of Bishop Juan Gerardi by an accused SOA graduate; in Bolivia where the president, a former military dictator and SOA graduate declared a state of siege and ordered troops into the streets against the people; and most notably in Colombia, with over 10,000 troops trained at the SOA and the worst human rights record in all of Latin America.





So I am doing what I can to close this notorious School/Institute. I have written letters to my elected officials; I have helped organize public forums to educate others about the situation; and yes, I have solemnly and sincerely, entered Ft. Benning asking that the School be closed. I hope my actions, the actions of my friends on trial with me, and the actions of thousands of others in our movement will serve as a catalyst to others to act to close the School/Institute in what ever way that is best for them. Together, I believe, we will bring about justice and that the SOA/WHISC will be closed.





________________________________





Rebecca Kanner


Ecology Center


117 N. Division St.


Ann Arbor, MI 48104


734-995-5888 x115 / fax 734-663-2414


rebecca (at) ecocenter.org / www.ecocenter.org


___________________________





William J. (Bill) Thomson, Ph.D.


(wthomson (at) umich.edu)


___________________________


 
 

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