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Thursday, 28 June, 2001, 12:59 GMT 13:59 UK
Elderly nuns face jail over protest
Army Secretary Louis Caldera
Army Secretary Louis Caldera defends the school
Two elderly nuns arrested at a protest against a United States school for Latin American soldiers are waiting for the order to report to prison.

Sister Gwen Hennessey, 68, and Sister Dorothy Hennessey, 88, were among 3,500 people who demonstrated against the former School of the Americas in Georgia last November.


People are saying, 'The streets will certainly be safer with these two off the streets'

Judy Haley Giesen,
Sisters of St Francis of the Holy Family convent
The two nuns - who are also blood sisters - received the maximum possible sentence for trespassing - six months in prison.

Sister Dorothy refused an offer of house arrest rather than imprisonment, telling the judge, "I'm not an invalid".

But when she was told she would not be allowed to bring anything except her eyeglasses, she did say she hoped she would be allowed to keep her hearing aid.

Protest

The two Franciscan nuns were among 26 people sentenced last month for demonstrating against the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Co-operation, formerly known as the School of the Americas.

Manuel Noriega, former dictator of Panama
Manuel Noriega of Panama trained at the School
The US-run institution, now based at Fort Benning in the state of Georgia, trains soldiers from Latin American countries in subjects such as counter-insurgency and military intelligence.

After some of the school's training manuals were released in 1996, The New York Times newspaper said that Americans "can now read for themselves some of the noxious lessons the United States taught thousands of Latin Americans" including "torture, execution and blackmail".

Graduates of the school included Haitian strongman Raoul Cedras, Manuel Noriega - the former dictator of Panama, and people who participated in the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador.

A spokesman for the school, Major Milton Mariani, said that although some graduates had committed crimes, 12 different investigations into the school had found no "wrongdoing".

Activist family

The sisters - two of 15 siblings from the US state of Iowa - became involved in activism via their late brother Ron, a friend of Archbishop Romero.

Former Haitian strongman Raoul Cedras
Haiti's Cedras was also a student
He spent many years in Guatemala and El Salvador.

They have not been in trouble with the law before, but Sister Dorothy marched across the US in the 1970s - when she was in her 70s - to protest against the Cold War arms race.

"People are saying, 'The streets will certainly be safer with these two off the streets'," the communications director of their convent said ironically.

The Sisters of St Francis of the Holy Family in Dubuque, Iowa, has something of an activist streak: A sign declares it a "nuclear-free zone".

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See also:

22 May 01 | Americas
US charges academy raiders
16 Dec 00 | Americas
New image for US 'torture school'
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