COLUMBUS, Ga. (AP) -- Bucking the pro-military mood of the nation, thousands of protesters descended on the site of a former Army school they blame for training soldiers who carried out human rights abuses in Latin America.
Despite tight security, 40 protesters were taken into custody by military police Sunday after getting around Fort Benning's locked gates. Three more were arrested sitting outside the main gate.
Fort Benning spokesman Rich McDowell said they were all released after receiving letters barring them from the base for five years. "At least eight are second offenders," McDowell said. "They could be prosecuted in federal court."
After the protest, 31 other demonstrators were arrested by Columbus police for unlawful assembly. It was the first time city police have made arrests in the protest's 11-year history.
With the United States at war against terrorists and Americans riding a patriotic wave, organizers said it was more important than ever to protest the former school.
"We use our voices to speak for the thousands in Latin America who have been killed and tortured," said the Rev. Roy Bourgeois, who has been leading the demonstrations for 11 years. "We will continue coming until this school is closed."
Twenty-three people, including two nuns, went to prison earlier this year for trespassing during last year's demonstration against the Army's School of the Americas, which trained Latin American soldiers.
The Army closed the school in December and the Department of Defense replaced it with a new school, the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.
The new school has a congressional mandate to focus on 21st century challenges such as drug interdiction, disaster assistance, anti-terrorism and human rights. Protesters contend it's the same old school with a new name.
Between 6,000 and 7,000 protesters carried signs reading "Imperialist Assassins" and "Terrorists are US." They created a memorial to the alleged victims by sticking crosses, flowers, placards and pictures onto the chain-link gate.
Organizers vowed to return next year.
Col. Richard Downie, commandant of the institute, visited with the demonstrators and answered their questions.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.