Update: SOA Watch protesters sentenced

Louis Wolf was one of six protesters who trespassed onto Fort Benning on Nov. 23.

On Monday, in U.S. District Court, he used his one remaining leg and a cane to walk to the witness stand. The 68-year-old declined Magistrate G. Mallon Faircloth’s offer of the seat, instead choosing to stand and read aloud the motivations that led him to cross the line.

An hour later, he was still reading.

“I’m almost finished, your honor,” Wolf said a little more than an hour into his statement.

Twelve minutes later, he was.

All six defendants pleaded not guilty to a charge of entering military, naval or Coast Guard property and all were found guilty by Faircloth. Wolf was the only one of the six not to receive prison time.

Defense attorney Bill Quigley told Faircloth about Wolf’s medical problems and mentioned the sophisticated attention he needs regularly. Faircloth referenced a letter written to him by Wolf’s daughter in which she says that if Wolf was taken away from her, she couldn’t live.

“She will have her wish, and you will not be taken away from her,” Faircloth said.

Wolf was sentenced to six months’ house arrest and a $1,000 fine. The remaining five defendants all received two-month sentences, though their fines ranged from nothing to $500.

The six were accused of crossing onto Fort Benning around 9 a.m. Nov. 23 at the Interstate 185 entrance. They were stopped about a half-mile onto post.

Theresa Cusimano, 40, was the only defendant to get a $500 fine and the only one to represent herself. When she stepped up to the lectern, she set an electric candle on it. Several such candles with white bases and flame-shaped bulbs were in the hands of supporters. Many lighted them as Cusimano spoke to the judge.

“Your honor, I don’t want to take up the court’s time,” she said.

“Take what time you require,” Faircloth said. “I am not paid by the hour.”

Cusimano, who was the last to be sentenced, summed up the messages given by her co-defendants. She mentioned Sister Diane T. Pinchot, 63, who said she lost a fellow sister to murder in El Salvador. Cusimano lauded the idealism of Kristin L. Holm, a 21-year-old seminary student.

And she told Faircloth about her own family, who Cusimano said believe she’s crazy because she chose to cross the line.

“I wish I could be asleep and drive my SUV to my suburban house and meet my husband and 2.5 kids,” Cusimano said. “I wish I was asleep ... What do I need to lift to get out of this situation? I refuse to believe that this is the best our country can offer. I refuse! We have the wrong people in the room for this conversation.”

Cusimano asked that instead of prison time, Faircloth sentence her to work for him and his court to ensure that the SOA Watch protest will no longer be needed. Father Luis N. Barrios, 56, is bilingual, she said; Albert L. Simmons, 64, is a veteran who overcame alcoholism; Wolf has the history under his belt; Holm is a preacher; and Pinchot has the creative consciousness.

“It doesn’t get much better than this,” she said of the possible team.

Faircloth, however, told Cusimano he had no power to legislate the closure of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation and advised her to seek change with Congress. Fighting the school by trespassing onto Fort Benning doesn’t carry much weight as civil disobedience, he said.

It was that disobedience which many spoke of when they got the chance. Holm told Faircloth that justice couldn’t be found without first finding frustration at injustice.

“And you bet I crossed the line,” she said. “I crossed the line. I crossed the line because the SOA is on the wrong side.”

Pinchot, an art professor, held a sculpture she made of four woman in shallow graves as she spoke to Faircloth. The sculpture was made out of separate pieces and fit together in a bowl that Pinchot held with two hands as she explained each figure’s story of rape and torture.

“These images don’t go away from me,” she said. “The images of the past are images living in me now ... I believe the spirit of God has asked me to this. I’m hoping that people will listen and the School of the Americas will be closed.”

Barrios, an Episcopal priest, told Faircloth prison time would not change his behavior. “Neither you nor your system will take away my dignity,” he said.Simmons said he no longer was someone with faith, but added that his mother was and she taught him a Biblical message — As you do to the least of these, you do also to me.

People are being murdered and they’re disappearing, Simmons said.

“Who are these people?” he asked. “Who are we?”