Thursday, September 15, 2011

Judith Kelly: "I will continue telling the truth and accept the consequences"

Translator's Note: Since Pablo Ruiz Espinoza conducted this brief interview with Judith Kelly, charges have been dropped against the SOA Watch protestors for the White House action.

by Pablo Ruiz Espinoza (English translation by Rebel Girl)

This September 12th, 15 U.S. activists, participants in the Watch to close the School of the Americas (SOAW, in English), will be tried by a court of justice for their refusal to pay a fine imposed as punishment for participating in a protest against the School of the Americas.

Remember that April 10th, in front of the White House, the protesters pretended to be people killed by the United States, throwing themselves to the ground. They were charged by the authorities with "disorderly conduct" and "stopping traffic" then.

The School of the Americas, although it now operates under another name, is a military academy that provides training to Latin American soldiers and where torture manuals, among others, have been discovered.

Chile is the country that sends the second largest number of soldiers to this place after Colombia, a country repeatedly accused of violating human rights presently.

Among the activists going to trial is the Teacher of Peace, Judith Kelly, who in 2003 was a prisoner of conscience, spending three months in prison along with other comrades. At that time she was convicted of trespassing at Fort Benning where SOA, also known as the "School of Assassins", operates.

Why did you participate in the protests in April? What was your particular motivation?

On April 10th, in front of the White House, I thought of my trips to Chile with human rights delegations in 2008 and 2009. There, I met many very impressive people, but during the April 2011 protests I was specifically thinking about Carolina Gonzalez Toro, daughter of Ramón González Ortega, who was executed for political reasons.

Sometimes I think I have to go to every victim of US policy, all over the world, asking forgiveness. A little while ago I went to Afghanistan and there I felt very ashamed for what the people have suffered because of US intervention.

Moreover, it was a great honor for me to participate in the protest with the founder of this movement that has been so important in my life. Father Roy Bourgeois is a hero and I wanted to accompany him in this action in front of the White House.

If the judge gives you an opportunity to talk about your motives, what would you say?

When I went to Chile, Carolina's testimony moved me greatly, because I clearly recognized that the US government helped in the coup of September 11, 1973. With tears, I offered my deepest condolences and asked for forgiveness on behalf of my country, for her trauma and for the pain that the death of her father caused her family.

Ramón González Ortega was an employee in the civilian government of President Allende, who lived in Puente Arenas and wasn't politically active.

When our delegation met this time with the Agrupación de Familiares de los Ejecutados Políticos [Association of Family Members of the Politically Executed -- AFEP], all the testimonies were moving, but Carolina's testimony remained in my memory because it was the first time she had spoken to an international group about her father's death. She told us that she was only 10 years old in 1973 when her father was taken by the Chilean soldiers. He was killed on October 30th of that year.

I know that there were thousands of victims during the 17 years that Pinochet lasted, those who survived and were tortured and also the mothers who still don't know where their missing children are today. But the situation of an innocent 10 year-old girl, what Carolina has had to live with to this day, that's something I can't forget, that I carry with me. I want to take this testimony before Judge Sullivan, September 12th.

Although the U.S. Congress and President Obama refuse to hear our cry to close the School of Assassins, I'm convinced we have a responsibility to tell the truth as we have learned and experienced it. If the judge finds us guilty of telling the truth, I take it as a badge of honor and will continue telling the truth and accepting the consequences.

What message do you want to send to the US with your action?

Our U.S. government, under Republican and Democratic administrations, has committed crimes against humanity. These crimes have caused the death of innocents around the world. Standing up and speaking the truth is the only way I can live with honor in this country. We must exercise our right to freedom of expression to tell the truth and we must also use our freedom to bear the consequences.

My message is simple: Each of us, U.S. citizens, has the duty to do what we can to respond with integrity to the criminal policies of our government. We have a responsibility to make sure that our government has a just and fair relationship with all other peoples of the world. I want to live in solidarity with all who are my brothers and sisters, my family.

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