by Kathy Kelly / Voices in the Wilderness –
On Sunday, November 23, I took part in a nonviolent civil disobedience action at Fort Benning, GA, to protest the U.S. Army’s School of the Americas (SOA, now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation — WHISC)
Shortly after more than two dozen of us entered Fort Benning and were arrested, US Military Police took us to a warehouse on the base for “processing.”
I was directed to a station for an initial search, where a woman soldier began shouting at me to look straight ahead and spread my legs. I turned to ask her why she was shouting at me and was ordered to keep my mouth shut, look straight ahead, and spread my legs wider. She then began an aggressive body search.
‘Nonviolent Resistance’ Deemed ‘Combativeness’
When ordered to raise one leg a second time, I temporarily lost my balance while still being roughly searched and, in my view, “womanhandled.” I decided that I shouldn’t go along with this dehumanizing action any longer. When I lowered my arms and said, quietly, “I’m sorry, but I can’t any longer cooperate with this,” I was instantly pushed to the floor.
Five soldiers squatted around me, one of them referring to me with an expletive (this f_ _ _ er) and began to cuff my wrists and ankles and then bind my wrists and ankles together. Then one soldier leaned on me, with his or her knee in my back.
Unable to get a full breath, I gasped and moaned, “I can’t breathe.” I repeated this many times and then began begging for help. When I said, “Please, I’ve had four lung collapses before,” the pressure on my back eased.
Four soldiers then carried me, hogtied, to the next processing station for interrogation and propped me in a kneeling position. The soldier standing to my left, who had been assigned to “escort” me, gently told me that soon the ankle and wrist cuffs, which were very tight, would be cut off. He politely let me know that he would have to move my hair, which was hanging in front of my face, so that my picture could be taken. I told him I’d appreciate that.
I was then carried to the next station. There, one of the soldiers who’d been part of pushing me to the floor knelt in front of me, and, with his nose about two inches from mine, told me that because I was combative I should know that if I didn’t do exactly as instructed when they uncuffed one hand, he would pepper spray me. I asked him to describe how I’d been combative, but he didn’t answer.
After the processing, I was unbound, shackled with wrist and ankle chains, and led to the section where other peaceful activists, also shackled, awaited transport to the Muskogee County jail.
At our bond hearing on Monday, Nov. 24, a military prosecutor told the federal judge that the military was considering an additional charge against me for resisting arrest. I explained my side of the story to the judge, grateful that there are at least several witnesses upon whom I could call.
The federal judge determined that most of us were “flight risks” and increased by 100 percent the cash bond required before we could be released, from last year’s $500 to $1000.
Are US Soldiers Being Trained to Punish Dissenters?
Today I have a black eye and the soreness that comes with severe muscle strain. Mostly, I’m burdened with a serious question, “What are these soldiers training for?”
The soldiers conducting that search must have been ordered not to tolerate the slightest dissent. They were practicing intimidation tactics far beyond what would be needed to control an avowedly nonviolent group of protesters who had never, in 13 years of previous actions, caused any disruption during the process of arrest.
Bewildered, most of us in the “tank” inside the Muskogee County jail acknowledged that during the rough processing we wondered, “What country do we live in?” We now live in a country where Homeland Security funds pay for exercises which train military and police units to control and intimidate crowds, detainees, and arrestees using threat and force.
This morning’s aches and pains, along with the memory of being hogtied, give me a glimpse into the abuses we protest by coming to Fort Benning, GA. As we explore the further invention of nonviolence in our increasingly volatile time, it’s important that we jointly overcome efforts to deter our determination to stand together against what Martin Luther King once called, “the violence of desperate men,” — and women.
In her work with Voices in the Wilderness, Kathy Kelly has risked her life numerous times in overseas troublespots. To date, one of her worst encounters with physical abuse has come at the hands of US soldiers stationed at Ft. Benning, Georgia.