10,000 attend annual School of Americas
Protesters at the gates of Fort Benning. Photo
by Nicholas Holt.
By Nicholas Holt
Columbus, Georgia, Nov. 20— Thousands of protesters
gathered outside Ft. Benning on Sunday as they have each year
since 1995, to protest the military’s school for Latin American
The protests resulted in 110 arrests, including two Asheville
The annual protests against the School of the Americas (SOA),
now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation
(often referred to as WHISC, but called WHINSEC by Army officials),
are led by SOA Watch, based just outside Ft. Benning’s gates.
SOA Watch puts the number of protesters gathered this year
Founded in 1990, SOA Watch has linked SOA graduates to numerous
incidents of repression and atrocities committed against farmers,
villagers, human rights activists, union members, religious
workers and others in Latin America. Opponents of the SOA say
that WHINSEC is simply a renamed version of the same program.
The Army denies any inappropriate subjects were included in
its counter-insurgency program at the SOA.
The Department of Defense, which runs WHINSEC, concedes no
wrong-doing at the SOA, but is also emphatic in its insistence
that the new school has no ties to the old. The SOA, they say,
was a product of the Cold War, whereas WHINSEC is designed to
help Latin American governments maintain and develop their democracies
and to fight drug trafficking and meet other challenges of the
The annual protests were different this year in a number of
ways. With the radically different political and emotional climate
following the attacks of Sept. 11 and the war in Afghanistan,
SOA-Watch organizers were unsure as to whether it was appropriate
to have the protests at all.
“We are here, of course, mindful (of) and mourning with, the
thousands in our country who mourn their loved ones because
of acts of terrorism,” said SOA Watch founder Father Roy Bourgeois
at a press conference on Saturday.
The destruction of the World Trade Center and the attacks on
the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania as well as the subsequent US
war in Afghanistan were among the acts repeatedly condemned
as terrorism during the weekend gathering.
“We called many of our people all over the country who have
been coming here for eleven years to address [the] issue of
violence,” said Fr. Bourgeois. “And overwhelmingly, everyone
said ‘No, no, more than ever, it’s important for us to be here
Having decided to carry on, SOA Watch then faced a legal challenge
from the City of Columbus, which sought an injunction preventing
Bourgeois and other SOA Watch leaders from participating in
the activities at Ft. Benning this year. The city also planned
to limit how close protesters could be to the gates of Fort
Judge G. Mallon Faircloth, who earlier this year sentenced
26 anti-SOA protesters to prison, ruled that both sets of restrictions
would violate the First Amendment.
Although Bourgeois said he was very pleased with the ruling,
he added “With or without the permit, we were marching.”
Saturday’s gathering, which included speeches, musical performances
and a giant puppet show, was held in a softball field located
miles away from Ft. Benning. In previous years, this event had
been held on the road leading into the base. Some attendees
seemed satisfied that the city had permitted the gathering at
all, while others felt they had been hidden away by the city
government in a deliberate attempt to keep them out of the public
Puppets advance on Ft. Benning. Photo by Nicholas
Traditionally, the November protesters at Ft. Benning have
held a symbolic funeral procession to honor those killed by
In previous years, thousands of marchers would then carry their
protest further with acts of civil disobedience by stepping
across the property line onto Ft. Benning, where they would
then be arrested.
This year however, the Army constructed a barbed wire-topped
fence across the entrance.
The funeral procession proceeded, but the marchers adapted
to the new circumstances by attaching their crosses and other
items to the barrier. Eventually, the crosses, banners and photographs
of the dead completely obscured the view through the wire fence.
Small groups of protesters walked around or climbed under the
fence onto Ft. Benning where they were then arrested. Some refused
compliance when asked to move and were then handcuffed and carried
or dragged on their knees to buses and driven away for processing.
Officials at Ft. Benning reported 70 arrests. As in the past,
those first time offenders will be issued orders banning them
from the base for five years. Any who had already received such
orders from previous actions could face more serious Federal
Following the funeral procession, a number of protesters,
some wearing masks characteristic of militant groups receiving
much media attention at recent anti-global capitalism protests,
spread out around the gates to Ft. Benning and, while banging
on makeshift drums and an old washing machine, began loud chants
calling for the closing of the SOA and announcing “That [Ft.
Benning] is what a police state looks like! This is what democracy
Atlanta Indymedia reported that Jeff Winder, National Director
of the SOA, spoke to the group, reminding them of SOA Watch’s
commitment to nonviolence, but praising their high energy and
spirit, and then declaring the area in front of the gate an
A number of protesters remained in the area into the evening,
refusing to move even when ordered to by law enforcement. Chief
Deputy Griffin of the Muscogee County Sheriff’s Department told
AGR that 33 individuals were arrested and charged with unlawful
assembly. Asheville activists Lola LaFey and Carter Draves were
among those arrested. Griffin also confirmed that this is the
first occasion that non-military law enforcement have made any
arrests during the annual November SOA Watch protests.
When asked about differences between the highly organized protest
style of SOA Watch and the acts of the individuals who gathered
later in the evening, SOA Watch spokesperson Ed Kinane was quick
to state “I wouldn’t put that much distance between us.”
As of Monday evening, the 33 individuals who were arrested
by the Sheriff’s Department were on hunger strike and practicing
jail solidarity, a resistance technique in which those arrested
refuse to give their names and demand that each member of the
group receive the same charges. By Tuesday, the activists had
reached an agreement with Muscogee County Municipal Judge Haywood
Turner. The activists were found guilty of “obstructing a roadway”
and pleaded no contest to “obstruction of an officer,” with
the judge noting that the offense was nonviolent. The protesters
were to be released Tuesday evening.
“We are supportive of them,” said Kinane.
Afghanistan cities change hands as Northern
Compiled by Sean Marquis
Nov. 20— The US “war on terrorism” in Afghanistan has
gone into fast forward as city after city fell from Taliban
hands into US-allied Northern Alliance hands, all within the
past few days.
The Taliban, meanwhile, confirmed the death of Osama bin Laden’s
military chief, Mohammed Atef, in a US bombing raid last week.
The Taliban’s founder Mullah Muhammad Omar has exhorted his
followers to regroup and battle on, but the troops in Konduz
want to give up the fight. They tried to negotiate a safe passage
to the south in return for the surrender of the province, but
the Northern Alliance insisted that they must give themselves
up. Now they are trying to surrender to the United Nations (UN)
as a neutral power rather than throw themselves on the mercy
of the enemy.
Though extremely pleased with the stunning rout of the Taliban,
policy planners in the US are utterly confused where to go next.
Washington is not yet certain whether the Taliban are running
for their lives or if they abandoned city after city with a
design. Most of the Taliban’s 60,000-strong fighting force and
its weaponry in Afghanistan is believed to have escaped with
low casualties from the heavy US bombing strikes and the Northern
Confusion on the part of the US and its allies extended beyond
the battlefield to the political field.
The Northern Alliance has finally agreed to talk about a coalition
government for Afghanistan, after stymieing UN efforts for several
Abdullah Abdullah, the alliance’s acting foreign minister,
agreed after talks with an American envoy to take part in a
meeting in Europe — Germany, Switzerland or Austria — as early
as this week. The alliance had wanted to hold the meeting in
Kabul, which would have given it a clear advantage over other
Afghan factions. But Washington and the UN insisted on a venue
where all parties could meet on an equal footing.
Washington has shown increasing signs of exasperation at the
alliance’s foot-dragging over this conference. The alliance
has clearly been hoping that it will gain control of the whole
country and be in an unassailable position to dictate the composition
of the next government.
Analysts say building a coherent government from factions
that have mistrusted, fought and double-crossed each other for
centuries is far easier in theory than in practice.
Factions in the Northern Alliance have already split the Afghan
capitol city of Kabul along ethnic lines. Shi’ite groups with
uneasy relations with the Tajiks and Uzbeks moved into territory
in southwest Kabul where the factions fought bitter battles
in the 1990s.
And in a move that raised the specter of factional fighting,
former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani arrived on Saturday
in the Afghan capital for the first time since he was driven
from power by the Taliban in 1996, declaring himself the legitimate
head of state.
Rabbani, the head of the Northern Alliance, has never relinquished
his claim to the presidency, though he has acknowledged the
international calls for a broad-based government that would
include all of Afghanistan’s ethnic groups.
However, if Rabbani or any other leader tries to claim power,
it could unleash the kind of internecine conflict that destroyed
much of the capital during Rabbani’s tenure, from 1992 to 1996.
The return of the Northern Alliance Muhajadeen to power is
not a much better prospect to many Afghanis.
Far from the underdog militia trying to overthrow the despotic
Taliban regime, Northern Alliance troops are reviled across
much of Afghanistan for their brutality.
They are also despised because they are primarily Uzbeks, Hazaras
and Tajiks. Pashtuns comprise the main Afghan ethnic group in
a country whose ethnic stew never stops boiling.
“We have lived under them before and they were not good rulers,”
said Sayed Noor, an Afghan farmer who arrived last week at Killi
Faizo refugee camp along Pakistan’s border. “They cannot rule
Afghanistan…They are vicious.”
Many of the Muhajadeen, or holy warriors, now fighting for
the Northern Alliance are war veterans who served in the decade-long
battle against the Soviets.
“Listen to me carefully,” warned Haji Abdul Ghani. “Those
opposed to the Northern Alliance are not on the side of the
Taliban or al-Qaida. We just want our children’s survival, our
women’s survival. If the Northern Alliance comes, we will all
There are already reports of looting, and passing journalists’
vehicles have been fired on. Four journalists (three European,
one Afghani) were killed in an apparent robbery when their car
was ambushed. Their bodies were left on the roadside, stripped
On Thursday the city of Jalalabad was taken over by Northern
The Muhajadeen are determined to make the most of their opportunity.
“When there is a big victory it is right that everybody should
share in it,” said Haziullah, a 28-year-old manning one of the
roadblocks on the outskirts of the city. “We have been waiting
a long time for this.”
“Thank you Britain and America for allowing these men to come
back and rob and beat us again,” one refugee shouted at a British
journalist as he drove slowly back into Jalalabad on Friday.
Even those who might rejoice at the ending of Taliban rule
are worried. Fatima, a 36-year-old teacher, said she was too
scared to celebrate. “How can we be happy when things are so
uncertain. Does this look like peace? We have not seen so many
soldiers in Jalalabad for five years.”
The only signs of change are the overt playing of music and
the return of televisions to restaurants. There is no sign of
women forsaking the burqa — the traditional all-encompassing
veil that the Taliban imposed.
“I am not going to walk unveiled through a city full of soldiers
where there is no police force,” Fatima said.
UN officials and aid agencies have expressed concern that hundreds
of civilians and captured soldiers have been massacred by both
the Taliban and the Northern Alliance.
Reports from Mazar-i-Sharif say several hundred Taliban supporters
—including Arabs, Chechens, and Pakistanis — were shot dead
in a massacre after that city fell to the alliance. A UN spokesperson
said officials had received reports of hundreds of children
being massacred by Northern Alliance forces at one school.
More than 100 Alliance fighters were massacred on Tuesday after
being captured by Taliban forces, and a number of civic officials
in Konduz, are said to have been murdered by the Taliban after
announcing that they wanted to surrender to the Alliance. There
have been further reports of dozens of Afghan Taliban troops
being mown down by their Chechen comrades while trying to surrender
to Alliance forces.
“There is now an urgent need to ensure that these crimes are
promptly and independently investigated,” said Asma Jahangir,
a specialist on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions
for the UN.
She said, “There can be no impunity for these widespread and
systematic killings, which may amount to crimes against humanity.”
Irene Khan, Secretary General of Amnesty International said,
“The Afghan population is at the mercy of armed political groups
with an appalling human rights record.”
Kahn also expressed concern about the summary execution of
soldiers adding, “Human rights abuses committed by the Taliban
cannot be used to justify new abuses by the Northern Alliance;
these killings must stop.”
Highlighting in particular the responsibility of the US, England
and Russia, Khan added, “Those countries which supplied arms
to and supported the Northern Alliance are responsible for ensuring
that the Alliance conducts itself within international humanitarian
law and does not use its arms to commit further abuses. If there
is bloodshed, the blood is also on their hands.”
British halt Army move into Kabul
The Northern Alliance provided a foretaste of trouble by insisting
last week that it would take care of security in Afghanistan
and that an international peacekeeping force was unnecessary.
The planned deployment of about 2,000 British troops to Afghanistan,
due to start Monday, has been delayed after the Northern Alliance
said they would not be welcome.
The decision was made after Alliance commanders made clear
that they did not want the lead elements of Britain’s 16 Air
Assault Brigade to arrive at Bagram air base outside Kabul,
as had been planned. Younis Qanouni, the Alliance’s acting interior
minister, said, “We do not expect any more foreign troops. We
see no need for that.” Senior Alliance leaders have been angered
by the statements by British officials, including Geoff Hoon,
the Defense Secretary, that the troops would be used to stabilise
the situation in Kabul amid fears of revenge killings. Qanouni
said that British forces already on the ground would be restricted
to humanitarian work, de-mining and providing security for the
British embassy, which is expected to reopen soon.
Weary of ‘with us or against us’
Faultlines deepened in the international coalition against
terrorism last week when President Bush informed the UN General
Assembly that he intends to take the anti-terror campaign beyond
In comments before the assembly of more than 1,000 delegates,
the Bush warned that some states, “while pledging to uphold
the principles of the UN, have cast their lot with the terrorists,”
alluding to Iraq. There will be “a price to be paid,” Bush said.
European public support for the Afghan war is dwindling, so
a move on Iraq may cause coalition defections on the Continent.
Meanwhile, a growing number of UN members are signaling a waning
appetite for Bush’s “with-us-or-against-us” campaign.
To some, the with-us-or-against-us smacks of Stalinism. They
say it muzzles domestic critics and squelches dissent from those
abroad who fear repercussions from the world’s economic and
Mr. Bush’s good-versus-evil rhetoric also denies shades of
gray, says Richard Falk, professor of politics and international
affairs at Princeton University. Such language “implies too
much clarity in a world that’s much messier than that,” he says.
“It shows a lack of respect for the sovereignty of other countries
and may place them between contradictory pressures.”
“If you ask whether we condemn the Sept. 11 attack, we’re
with you,” says one South American diplomat. “But is more violence
the best answer? The Americans don’t leave room for alternative
opinions. When will countries speak out: after 1,000, 100,000,
or 1 million more are killed?”
A quick test of coalition support came two weeks ago when Lebanon
refused to freeze the assets of Hizbullah, which is supported
by both Syria and Iran. Syria is expected to follow Lebanon’s
Sources: Amnesty International, AnaNova.com, The Times (UK),Village
Voice, The Observer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Associated
Press, International News, Reuters, The Guardian, Telegraph
(UK), The Christian Science Monitor
Clashes color weekend of
protests against the IMF and World Bank
Pro-democracy activists march against the
G-20 in Ottawa.
Compiled by Eamon Martin
Nov. 20— Police used tear gas, bean bags, concussion
grenades, pepper spray and water to push back activists gathered
to protest outside meetings of the International Monetary Fund
(IMF), World Bank, and “Group of 20” (G-20) nations this weekend.
The G-20 represents a mix of big and small countries that together
make up 88 per cent of the world’s economic output and includes
60 per cent of the world’s poor. Members range from Canada,
the US and Britain to Saudi Arabia, China, and Brazil. The IMF-World
Bank meetings, were originally to have been held in September
in their usual host city, Washington, DC, but were canceled
over security concerns after the terror attacks on September
Police said 50 people were arrested during clashes that saw
officers fire rubber bullets at crowds that peaked Saturday
at about 2-3,000. Over the weekend, demonstrators, waving flags,
banging drums and hollering slogans, gathered in Ottawa to urge
the finance ministers and central bank chiefs to stop having
their meetings. More than 7,000 police officers were deployed
to contain them.
On Friday, riot police lobbed a concussion grenade at protesters
and arrested several during a series of confrontations near
the G-20 meeting site. About 300 protesters, who oppose a range
of capitalist policies, played a game of cat and mouse with
police throughout the afternoon. Police fired the grenade during
a gathering at a human rights monument as demonstrators listened
to various speakers.
“We were trying to decide how to get out of here,” said one
demonstrator, “…and then they (police) attacked.”
A slogan spray-painted in black on the nearby Bank of Canada
building read: “It has to start somewhere; it has to start sometime;
what better place than here; what better time than NOW?”
On Saturday, marchers shouted their opposition but remained
peaceful, chanting, “Shut it down,” as police looked on. By
early evening, after two separate confrontations with police,
protesters had retreated from the metal barricades protecting
the G-20 meeting at the Government Conference Center. But smaller
groups faced off with police who had locked down the perimeter
around the building.
In one instance, officers used tear gas and pepper spray to
disperse a crowd of about 300 just east of the site. At least
two people were arrested, including one young woman who was
dragged away screaming.
Earlier Saturday, as international finance officials met, police
fired at least one canister of tear gas when protesters tried
to breach the barricades protecting the meeting site. They also
fired bean bags from rifles and used water hoses and pepper
spray to stop the crowd from advancing. Using two water cannon
trucks, police doused protesters with hoses — a chilly prospect
on a day with temperatures around freezing.
About a dozen protesters, bandannas over their faces, pushed
down part of the first line of barricades as police on rooftops
watched and officers on the ground videotaped the action.
Demonstrators chanted, “Whose streets? Our streets!”
At one stage the protests took on a carnival atmosphere as
demonstrators, jumped up and down as they chanted to rap music,
‘’I want to see some dancing cops.’’
Police appeared to be targeting anarchists. Some of Saturday’s
arrests occurred when special police units swooped in among
the crowd and plucked out black-clad protesters wearing balaclavas,
the kind of headgear worn by demonstrators who smashed the windows
of a McDonald’s restaurant on Friday.
“No cops, no state, no war, no hate,” chanted a group of anarchists
as they wound their way through the diverse crowd.
A few demonstrators set an American flag on fire as others
Another carried a large American flag with corporate logos
in place of the stars. They included Coca Cola, Shell, McDonald’s,
NBC, ABC, CBS, Warner Brothers, Intel and IBM.
“Most demonstrators acted in a peaceful way,” police spokesman
Leo Javeau told reporters, summing up Saturday’s march to the
But many accused the police of brutality during the protest.
“The police moved very quickly, very swiftly, viciously with
their dogs,” said Paul Smith of Global Democracy Ottawa. “They
took people down in the street; they held people off with riot
sticks and they threatened them with guns. I don’t know whether
they were plastic bullets, but basically it was an unprovoked
Protester Jamie Kneen added: ‘They (were) trying to provoke
Why the protests?
The protesters, including students, labor activists, church
groups and others, have a range of concerns.
“The IMF and World Bank hurt poor countries and undermine
democracy,” says Mobilization for Global Justice organizer Robert
For more than 20 years, people from Argentina to Zambia have
conducted mass protests against the policies of the International
Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank.
Activists are calling on the two financial institutions to
open all of their meetings to the public and media. So long
as the decision-making meetings of the two institutions remain
secret, they point out, there is no way for citizens to know
what their government representatives are doing.
Others are also demanding that the IMF and World Bank cancel
the debts owed them by impoverished countries. Poor countries,
including those that have passed through the institutions’ debt
relief program, routinely spend more money servicing foreign
debt than they do on health care or education.
Many activists also want the IMF and World Bank to end policies
they say have hindered people’s access to food, clean water,
shelter, health care, education and the right to organize. These
conditions, they say, have resulted from ideologically driven
economic austerity or “structural adjustment” programs that
have included charges known as user fees for basic health care,
privatization and prioritizing exports over production for local
In addition, many are demanding the World Bank end all support
for socially and environmentally destructive projects, such
as oil, mining and gas activities, and large dams.
“Another world is possible,” says Weissman. “If the IMF and
World Bank operated transparently, if poor countries were relieved
from the straitjacket of debt, if the institutions did not impose
user fees for health care and other harmful policies, then countries
would be much freer to pursue different economic strategies
in accordance with the democratic determinations of their people.”
“We share these modest democratic aspirations with people
across the globe,” he added.
Inside, crises loomed large over the weekend talks. Dominating
the sessions were Afghanistan’s reconstruction, debt relief
and aid for poor countries badly affected by the unraveling
world global economy, and measures to starve terrorists of financing.
The IMF and World Bank wrapped up with fresh calls for increasing
aid to developing countries, but resistance to the idea by the
United States raised doubts about how much new assistance would
be forthcoming. World Bank president James Wolfensohn acknowledged
that the most powerful member of the committee, US Treasury
Secretary Paul H. O’Neill, was by far the least enthusiastic
about that proposition.
The IMF and World Bank pledged their support for increasing
financing for a network of “counter-terrorist” operations and
intelligence facilities in the developing world.
Sources: Agence France Presse, Canadian Press, Inter Press
Service, Multinational Monitor, Reuters, Washington Post