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Monday, August 13, 2007

Catholic priests for Justice, opposed to USA military use of torture.

Pre-Trial Continues for Priests Who Denounce Torture
By Sari Gelzer
T r u t h o u t | Report

Monday 13 August 2007

Two Roman Catholic priests, who were arrested as they approached the Fort Huachuca gatehouse on November 19, 2006, will face a continuance of their pre-trial hearing this August 13 in Federal Court in Tucson, Arizona. The intent of Franciscan Fr. Louis Vitale, 74, and Jesuit Fr. Steve Kelly, 58, was to speak with enlisted personnel and deliver a letter denouncing torture to Major General Barbara Fast, commander at the post.

The letter addressed to Major General Fast voices the priests' concern with what is being taught to interrogators who are being trained at Fort Huachuca, the headquarters for the intelligence services of the US military.

"The Army Field Manual on interrogation (Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual) was written at Fort Huachuca," wrote Bill Quigley, law professor and human rights lawyer at Loyola University New Orleans.

Quigley, who also happens to be representing both priests in this case, goes on to say: "A number of the officers and soldiers responsible for human rights abuses at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison have worked at or were trained at the Headquarters for Army Intelligence Training at Ft. Huachuca."

Before becoming the Commander of the US Army intelligence Center in Arizona, Major General Fast was the top US intelligence officer in Iraq. She was responsible for reviewing the status of detainees at Abu Ghraib before their release, and was serving her post during the period in which practices of torture by US military personnel were occurring in the prison.

The priests found it fitting to discuss US acts of Torture with Major General Fast and ask her what is specifically being taught to US military interrogators at the US base. In their letter, they address Major General Fast:

"We are here today as concerned US people, veterans and clergy, to speak with enlisted personnel about the illegality and immorality of torture according to international humanitarian law, including the Geneva Conventions. We condemn torture as a dehumanization of both prisoners and interrogators, resulting in humiliation, disability and even death."

The priests were at the base in Sierra Vista, Arizona as part of a demonstration of over 120 people that gathered on Sunday, November 19, 2006, to protest military training that fosters torture. Frs. Vitale and Kelly were stopped as they approached the military gates. When they were not allowed to go inside to speak with the service men and women being trained, the two men knelt in prayer and were arrested.

The demonstration at Fort Huachuca was held in conjunction with the 16th annual vigil at Fort Benning, Georgia, organized by the group, School of the Americas Watch. On Saturday, November 18, 2006, over 20,000 protesters arrived at Fort Benning to call for the closing of what was formerly known as the School of the Americas. The school's name was changed in 2000 to the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC).

A Congressional task force found that soldiers, responsible for the massacre of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her teenage daughter in El Salvador in 1989, were trained at the School of the Americas, which moved to Fort Benning from Panama in 1984. The protesters accuse the school of participating in mass human rights abuses in Latin American and beyond.

Fr. Vitale and Fr. Steve Kelly face federal and state charges of trespass and refusal to follow police orders.

Fr. Vitale is co-founder of the Nevada Desert Experience, a faith-based organization that has opposed nuclear weapons testing for a quarter of a century. He was arrested at a Fort Benning Protest in 2005 and served six months in federal prison.

Fr. Kelley has served time in federal prison for the nonviolent, direct disarmament of nuclear weapon delivery systems. In December of 2005, he served as chaplain for Witness to Torture, a delegation of US anti-torture activists who peacefully marched in Cuba to the gates of the Guantanamo Bay naval base and prison camp.


To View the Letter:
For Information on the Trial:
School of the America Watch:


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