COLUMBUS, GEORGIA-Eve Tetaz, 83 carried a cross and a photo of Mauricio Ortega Valerio one of the 43 students missing from Ayotzinapa, Mexico who was disappeared on September 24, 2014, and a bible verse that read, “Turn swords into plowshares.” She entered Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia on November 23, 2014 because she said she wanted to speak to the soldiers there.
Nashua Chantal, 62 wore clothing and carried a banner which both read, “STUDY WAR NO MORE.” At the November annual SOAW vigil, he too entered the base but using a ladder to climb over a fence as he did in 2012. Both risked maximum prison sentences of 6 months to deliver their messages onto base, home to the School of the Americas (SOA), renamed Western Hemispheric Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) in 2001.
This was the third time crossing onto the base for Chantal, the first time being in 2003, and the second in 2012. He told Judge Stephen Hyles, “I have served two prison sentences. I am asking the court to go down a different path. I have made my point. I will continue to fight for human rights.”
Tetaz plead not guilty and when asked by Hyles why she crossed she explained, “I wanted to ask the soldiers of this base if they knew where [the students] are.” Hyles then asked her, “Why could you not have done that on the legal side of the line?” to which she responded, “If I understand your question, you are saying that on the other side of the line I could ask that question and that by illegally crossing at the base property, I lost my constitutional right to ask for redress. Never can anyone speak in my name that upholds the abuse that is committed by these graduates. Not in my name. Torture is not a political tool. My own president asks, ‘Is this who we are?’ If SOA is kept open, then I’m afraid the answer is yes. I see no difference between outside and inside [the gates] in terms of my right to petition my government.”
Speechless, Hyles turned to the prosecution to ask, “Does the US want to cross exam?” to which the prosecution answered, “Um, not really. No.” eliciting a courtroom burst into quiet laughter. Showing perhaps embarrassment and a lack of argument from either himself or the United States, Hyles continued with what witnesses described as an “emotional explosion” as he listed state costs that he said would be affected by her actions: the cost of incarceration, the cost of mental health and rehabilitative services, school lunches. But in the end, struggling to argue with Tetaz’ defense, he simply yelled, “You are a bad citizen!”
Tetaz was fined $5000 and Chantal received 5 years probation, breaking years of tradition of former activists receiving the maximum 6 month prison sentences for similar actions.
The following is from a press conference where Chantal, Tetaz, and attorneys Anna Lellelid and Bill Quigley spoke after their trials: