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Navy Vet Begins One-Year Sentence for SOA Protest
by John Tarleton
COLUMBIA, MissouriSteve Jacobs, a Navy veteran-turned-peace activist, began serving a one-year prison sentence Tuesday for entering the School of the Americas (SOA) during last November's protests in Fort Benning, Georgia.
Jacobs, 46, a member of Columbia's Catholic Worker community, held a morning press conference at the St. Francis House before leaving with family and friends for Fort Leavenworth, Kansas where he surrendered himself to federal authorities. Jacobs has been arrested 20 times since pouring blood on the Pentagon at a 1976 disarmament rally.
"I feel like I have a duty to speak for people who are being abused by our government," Jacobs said. Statuettes of the Virgin Mary and St. Martin Porres stood on the fireplace mantle behind him. "We've done terrible things in the name of fighting communism and totalitarianism."
"School of Assassins"
The SOA was founded in 1946 to train Latin American military officers. Dubbed the "School of Assassins" by its critics, hundreds of the SOA's graduates have been implicated in human rights abuses. Alums included Gen. Manuel Noriega of Panama, Raoul Cedras of Haiti and the late Roberto d'Aubisson of El Salvador. Protests at the SOA began in November 1990 after Salvadoran military officers trained at the SOA were linked to the 1989 slaying of six Jesuit priests.
Over 1,700 people were arrested at last year's protest. 26 repeat offenders, including Jacobs, were brought to trial and received sentences ranging from probation to a year in prison. Jacobs' crime: planting white crosses on SOA grounds.
"We're called to be peacemakers not peace observers," Jacobs said. "As a Catholic, I'm offended that I'm being asked to pay for the bullets that kill priests, nuns and catechists."
Among the SOA 26, there are four nuns, a hospital chaplain, a homemaker, a NASA research scientist, a high school teacher, a freelance journalist, a college student, a baker, a psychotherapist, a union organizer and a retired corporate executive. Thirteen of the SOA 26 are 65 or older including Sister Dorothy Hennessey, 88, of Dubuque, Iowa, who is serving a six-month sentence. Jacobs, who plays folk music with a local band, served in the Navy from 1973-75 and worked for 13 years as a resident nurse on the psychiatric ward of the Harry S. Truman Memorial VA Hospital in Columbia. He also is a co-founder of the St. Francis House and the Loaves and Fishes Soup Kitchen.
An Unusual Marriage
The SOA movement has lobbied Congress heavily over the past decade. And, a bill last year to close the School failed to pass the House of Representatives by only 10 votes. Instead, the SOA's name was changed to the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHISC).
"It's a different name but the same shame," Jacobs said, noting that U.S.-backed military and paramilitary forces are currently committing 15 political murders per day in Colombia. Jacobs also said there was a vital connection between SOA and free trade agreements like NAFTA and the FTAA.
"The reason we train these soldiers in the first place is to eliminate labor organizers," Jacobs said.
Jacobs is married with two grown daughters and a 4-year old grandson. He will celebrate his 24th anniversary in prison next May.
"He's absolutely where he needs to be," said his wife Lana, who has been arrested over 30 times. "It's a part of our marriage vows to love God first. We're fortunate enough to love each other enough to be able to love a lot of other people as well as justice."
Jacobs said he planned to catch up on some reading in prison and that he might "cross the line" again in the future.
"We're not there to make enemies of the soldiers," he said. "We're there to close the SOA."