Fort Benning protesters arrested

More than 100 anti-war protesters were arrested by military police and city authorities last weekend in Columbus during what organizers say was the largest demonstration so far targeting the former School of the Americas at Fort Benning.

An estimated 86 people were charged with trespassing on federal property after they climbed over or walked around the high fence erected at the Army base in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks. Another 31 were taken into custody by city police and sheriff's deputies late Sunday evening when they refused to move out of the road that leads into the sprawling base.

"It was their choice to be arrested," says Assistant Chief Wesley Mott of the Columbus police, who gave the order around 11 p.m. He says the charges will include unlawful assembly for violating a federal judge's order and perhaps obstructing a public street. The group was facing arraignment Monday afternoon.

In the weeks leading up to the annual rally by School of the Americas Watch, the group's founder, Father Roy Bourgeios, had been engaged in public brinkmanship with Columbus Mayor Bobby Peters over the planned march.

Despite the city's concerns, the protests and march went peacefully, without the feared counter-demonstrations, says Mott, who estimates the total crowd at 8,000-10,000, possibly the largest rally in the 12-year history of SOA Watch.

The group seeks to close down the Fort Benning school, which has been blamed for training a series of Latin American military figures responsible for atrocities.??

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