Army Hero Turned Activist Headed to Prison for Trespassing
Vet says protest
against military school has been an act of conscience
Michael Taylor, Chronicle Staff Writer
Friday, June 9, 2000
A federal judge sentenced Charles Liteky, a former Army chaplain
and war hero turned lifelong demonstrator, to the maximum sentence of one
year in prison yesterday, a term Liteky said he welcomed as a way of drawing
attention to his cause.
Standing at the lectern in a Columbus, Ga., courtroom, 69-year-
old Liteky, who lives part-time in San Francisco, read a 10-minute statement
to U.S. District Judge Hugh Lawson. The judge leaned forward and listened
intently, clearly interested in hearing why one of 147 living recipients of
the Medal of Honor would willingly spend a year of his life in prison.
Liteky got his one-year sentence and a fine of $10,000 for two counts of
illegally trespassing at Fort Benning, the sprawling Army infantry post that
is home to the controversial School of the Americas, a training facility for
Latin American military officers.
Liteky and other critics charge that many of the school's graduates have
been responsible for massacres of peasants and human rights workers in
Central and South America.
``I consider it an honor to be going to prison as a result of an act of
conscience in response to a moral imperative that impelled and obligated me
to speak for voices silenced by graduates of the School of the Americas, a
military institution that has brought shame to our country and the U.S.
Army,'' Liteky told Lawson.
Under terms of the sentence, Liteky, who is not in custody, will be
notified by mail within six weeks about which federal prison he should
report to. He said yesterday that he suspects he will be sent to Lompoc in
Liteky's years of protesting and his occasional appearances before
federal judges -- he did six months in prison 10 years ago for the same
offense -- might well be overlooked had he not received the nation's highest
award for bravery in combat. He then became one of only two of the 3,410
recipients of the Medal of Honor to give it back, again as an act of
Liteky was awarded the medal (under the name of Angelo J. Liteky) for
saving the lives of 23 soldiers during a fierce firefight in Vietnam in
December 1967. At the time, he was a Catholic priest and was serving in the
Army as a chaplain. He has since resigned from his religious order.
During the one-hour court session in Columbus, Lawson told Liteky that he
did not understand ``the connection between what is going on at the School
of the Americas and this court.''
Liteky said after sentencing that he intends to write Lawson from prison
``because I want him to understand that connection.''
``We're doing acts of civil disobedience in the tradition of our
democracy,'' he said. ``This has been going on for a long time. And in going
to prison, I'm drawing attention to the issue. I'm happy with his ruling.''
Liteky's wife, Judy, a former nun, joined him in court yesterday. ``My
main reason for being here,'' she said later, ``was to be with Charlie. The
sentence is longer than I thought it would be, so I'm going to have to take
some time to get used to a whole year.''
Correspondent Jason Miczek in Georgia contributed to this report.
03/13/2000 - A Matter of Honor.
02/12/2000 - School of Americas class dwells on human rights .
11/20/1999 - U.S. to Seek New Image for Much-Criticized School of the Americas .
01/31/1999 - A priest's war against School of Assassins'.
>>more related articles...
©2000 San Francisco Chronicle
- Subject: SOA 10 sentenced
Date: Thu, 08 Jun 2000 16:44:46 -0700
June 8, 2000
School of the Americas Protesters Sentenced to Prison
COLUMBUS, GA—Ten protesters received sentences of up to 12 months in prison
their part in a November 1999 funeral procession onto Fort Benning property
calling for the
closure of the School of the Americas. Judge Hugh Lawson imposed the
sentences today in the US District Court in Columbus, GA.
Congressional medal of winner Charles Liteky received the maximum sentence
of 6 months in
prison and a $5000 fine on each of two counts of trespassing for a total of
12 months in prison
and a $10,000 fine. Liteky stated, "I dedicate my time in prison to the
victims of the SOA, living
and dead. When I enter prison it will be as a prisoner of war, the war
against the poor."
Sr. Megan Rice, who served a 6 month sentence for her part in a 1997 SOA
sentenced to 6 months in prison and a $5,000 fine. She was taken
immediately into custody.
Seven others were sentenced to three months in prison and a $2,500 fine
after stating that they
would return to Fort Benning again and again until the SOA is closed. One
defendant, who did
agree that she would not return to the post was sentenced to 12 months of
The School of the Americas, training ground for more than 60,000 Latin
troops, has been under intense pressure to close its doors. Documented
human rights abuses
by its graduates have included the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero
massacre of 900 civilians in the village of El Mozote. In response to
criticism, the Pentagon has
circulated a reform proposal that would re-name the school The Defense
Hemispheric Security Cooperation but offer no substantive changes. By a
narrow margin, the
House voted to accept this proposal last month.
SOA critics call the changes cosmetic and contend that it is business as
usual for the SOA.
School of the Americas Watch staff have vowed to work harder than ever to
close this School
The protesters were not deterred by the sentences and will return home to
anti-SOA organizing until ordered to report to federal prison. "These harsh
sentences will only
energize this movement and call forth in ever greater numbers," said Fr.
co-director of SOA Watch.
List of Defendants follows. To schedule interviews contact SOA Watch at
1. Brooks Anderson, 66, Retired Lutheran Pastor, participated in Selma to
Montgomery civil rights march, married, 4 children, 9 grandchildren, Duluth, MN. 3 months in prison, $2500 fine.
2. Judy Bierbaum, 43, Children’s Sexual Abuse therapist, Catholic,
Award in 1997, Governor’s outstanding Woman of New Mexico Award in 1998,
Albuquerque, NM. 3 months in prison, $2500 fine
3. Thomas Bottolene, 50, Full-time, multi-issue Nonviolent Activist for
Peace and Justice,
father of 4, grandfather, graphic artist, organizer, St. Paul, MN. 3 months in prison, $2500 fine.
4. Charles Butler, 73, Retired United Methodist Pastor, Missionary in
Panama for 25 years,
Army Veteran stationed at Ft. Benning, married, 3 children, Rochester,
MN. 3 months in prison, $2500 fine.
5. Kathleen Fisher, Environmental Chemist, Quaker, worked 4 years in
Swaziland for Mennonite Central Committee, on staff of U.S. Grail, a
social justice and environmental organization, Portland, OR. 1 year probation, $1000 fine.
6. Gerhard Fischer, 71, Retired Pharmacist/Business Person, U.S. Navy
veteran of Korea
conflict, Lutheran, married, 5 daughters, 9 grandchildren, Brookfield,
3 months in prison, $2500 fine.
7. John Honeck, 39, Residence Counselor for mentally retarded adults,
Tutor, married, 3
children – 6, 8 and 12 years old, Hamlin, NY.
3 months in prison, $2500 fine.
8. Margaret Knapke, 47, Natural Therapeutics Practitioner, worked with
people from El Salvador, Master of Philosophy, Dayton, OH.
3 months in prison, $2500 fine.
9. Charles Liteky, 69, Awarded Congressional Medal of Honor for heroism in
6 months in federal prison for previous SOA protest, married, San
12 months in prison, $10,000 fine.
10. Sr. Megan Rice, SHCJ, 70 Catholic Sister of the Holy Child Jesus, worked
as a missionary
in Nigeria and Ghana for 34 years, served 6 months for previous SOA
6 months in prison, $5000 fine.
Contact: Roy Bourgeois or Jeff Winder (706) 682-5369
- Subject: Letters from Charlie: August 2000
Date: Sun, 27 Aug 2000 13:28:32 +0100
From: Richard Olive
Dear SOAWatch West Members:
Following are excerpts of two recent letters from Charlie Liteky written
from Lompoc Federal Prison where he is serving a one-year sentence for his
efforts to close the SOA.
"Charlie's Challenges of Nonviolence Letters from Lompoc"
(Second full day of sentence)
Thanks to the kindness of residents, my critical sundry needs were met
immediately upon arrival at my double decker bunk Š Amenities like tooth
brush and paste, soap, paper, pen, stamps and envelopes came to me from
inmates in my dormitory neighborhood just because I am a new kid on the
block with no commissary privileges until next week! One could not help but
he impressed by the concern of some residents. My bunkmate, Terry, a young
Afro-American, had asked if I had eaten supper. It was around 5 p.m. I
missed mess hall call due to intake. Terry shared a commissary chicken
cutlet and a pear with me. Very touching!
Life in camp is easy as long as you can handle being disregarded as a person.
There is a spiritual force at work here: sweat lodges for Native Americans
and friends, all sorts of denominational services, AA (Alcoholics
Anonymous), Buddhist, etc. Will definitely sweat! Love it.
I've been assigned to the carpentry shop run by a federal employee whose
main goal is successful retirement and pension.
Plenty of time for reading, writing and the basic arithmetic of subtracting
days here from 365 and adding some to day No. 1.
As expected, this is a great opportunity to grow in patience and nonviolent
response to verbally violent language. Don't expect much physical violence
anywhere but on the basketball court, which I won't be using until I lose
some weight and shape up the muscles!
Love and Peace.
Top Bunk In Alpha Unit
Life in this level of security is not much worse than military boot camp.
We have considerable freedom of movement, time to read and write, fair
food, time to recreate - medical care for minor ills.
Brushed shoulders with the first inmate who evoked negative feelings of
violence in me. I don't think he had any idea of my disgust for his
behavior. Big, muscular, mean-looking type who was verbally abusive in
general. Hating behavior and loving the person is a real struggle. Have a
good book on selective writing of Gandhi called All Men Are Brothers that
is helping me and calling me onward into the practice of nonviolence.
My daily life is rich in people experience. The majority of camp population
is white and elderly. I happen to live in a small pocket of three men who
are African American: Terry in the bunk below me; Nate, who's bunk adjoins
mine at the north end (we sleep head to foot) and another black man in his
30s who loves revolutionaries!
From my perspective, they are all fine men, exceptionally friendly toward
me. In general there is a beautiful spirit of friendliness and concern for
one another in the prison camp population. The staff is another story. I
feel worse for them than I do (for) the inmates. David Hartsough's remarks
about the guard who broke his arm at Concord keeps coming back to me: "How
would you like to have his job?"
Between last night and this morning I made a decision to ask for a transfer
of work (from the carpentry shop) on the basis of conscience. (The decision
was based on an assignment to build a storage place for riot control
Now the boss of carpentry and construction shop, according to other inmates
who had tried to transfer, never let anyone go once assigned to him! If he
refused my only redress would be an outright refusal to work, resulting in
a quick trip to the hole and change of security level from camp to the next
minimum level called FCI (Federal Correctional Institute). After 30 days or
so in the FCI hole an inmate is given the opportunity to work within the
FCI. No more camp.
Just after noon I presented my boss with my request for transfer on what is
called a cop-out form. He was not happy (as) he looked over my request:
Subject: Transfer of Work Position
I am currently working in construction of a building to be used for weapons
storage for riot control. As a person committed to nonviolence this (is a
matter of) conscience for me. Therefore, I respectfully request a change of
work positions. I will happily clean latrines, etc. This request for
transfer is in no way related to (unnamed individual). It involves a matter
of conscience which I must answer to.
S/Charles J. Liteky
After at least two readings the boss said, "So you don't believe in
violence of any kind, huh?" I answered, "That's correct." He replied, "So
what are you going to do when two men are trying to kill one another?"
"It would be my obligation to interpose my body between the men."
"And you would be dead," he said!
"Yes, that could happen."
"That's a violent world over there."
I replied, "I know, but it's not my world; I'm trying to help create a
nonviolent world and to do so a person must face violence, nonviolently,
and die if necessary. This is a punitive system."
Right here he decided to sign my request. I don't think he wanted to
discuss nonviolence further.
So now I'm free of this job and waiting for another assignment.
8/21/00 Monday 5:30 a.m. The Chapel
My first attempt to journal. I've been looking for the right time and a
place I could count on every day. I prefer the first waking hours of the
morning, which can begin here as early as 5 a.m. when we are first permitted
to leave the dorm, where around 144 of us are warehoused for the night.
Finally, I have found what could be the right spot, a closet with a light in
the rear of the camp, a non-denominational chapel which I'm told is rarely
locked! Looks like I'm not the only one of 300 inmates in search of silence
and solitude. Two other inmates have arrived.
8/22/00 Tues 6:50 a.m. Picnic Table
Woke up around 3:30; couldn't fall back to sleep. So I laid around till 6
a.m. However, I do have a half hour before the utility van comes to pick
about 10 of us up and deliver us to our assigned place of work, called V.T.
Construction, which is supposed to (be) a combination of back- and hands-on
work in the fields of construction, electricity and plumbing. This week we
are scheduled to lay a concrete slab inside a silo. Having moments of
silence here, waiting for the incarnation, so to speak, of thoughts and
feelings, insights into self and the system I'm living in. I don't feel that
I'm doing time. It's more like this is my life for awhile, living in the
exclusive company of adult males each one on his own level of spirituality
absence thereof. It's easy to be around those who have begun their journey;
not so easy to share with those who have no idea of their spiritual
potential sex, sports, prison life, occasional political talk,
can, at best, talk around. Listening is limited.
8/23/00 Wed 6:55 a.m.
Time is moving rapidly on. Three weeks down already. Still in search of the
ideal journaling place. This morning I've chosen a chair in the aisle on
southern end of my bunk. I have around 25 minutes to gather a few thoughts.
Occasionally, I'm asked about why I do what I do by another inmate. Rather
than go into an essay answer, I've decided to respond as the Jonah
House-Nuclear Holistics do, It's a simple matter of what I feel is an
obligation #150; to resist evil.' What follows thereafter depends as much on the
person asking the question as it does on my disposition at the time. I've
reached the conclusion that I must refuse to work for this expression of our
federal government on the grounds of its connection to the larger expression
of institutional violence, namely, the federal government itself. All I have
to do is refuse to work and I will be ushered to the hole in another
compound, called F.C.I. I have to wait for the right moment to do this since
such a move will again affect Judy. Must prepare her for the change. I do
pray and meditate over decisions like this, more so now than ever. Prayers
like, 'God, what do I do when doing what is right hurts someone else,
especially one whom I love?'
I've been struggling with this matter of following one's conscience when it
dictates or involves an act (usually of self-sacrifice) that will cause pain
to a loved one. Gandhi, in his autobiography, says:
"I know, too, that performance of one's duty should be independent of public
opinion. I have all along held that one is bound to act
according to what to one appears to be right, though it may appear wrong to
others. And experience has shown that that is the only correct course. That
is why the poet has sung: 'The pathway of love is the ordeal of fire, the
shrinkers turn away from it.' The pathway of Ahimsa, that is, of love, one
has often to tread all alone."
Related to direction along life's pathway, Gandhi says: "True guidance
comes by constant waiting upon God, but
utmost humility, self-abnegation, by being ever ready to sacrifice one's
self. Its practice requires fearlessness and courage of
the highest order. I am painfully aware of my failings." (so am I, but
awareness can lead to improvement through prayer. I hope so). "But the light
within me is steady and clear, there is no escape for any of us, save
through truth and non-violence."
The book from which I quote Gandhi is
entitled 'All Men Are Brothers, Autobiographical Relfections', compiled and
edited by Krishna Kripalani, Continuum, New York, 1982. No doubt out of
print. I find it helpful. What I wonder about is how Gandhi achieved such a
high level of non-violence. Was it prayer, fasting, meditation,
vegetarianism, voluntary poverty and celibacy? I am a vegetarian as of
today. This is an easy place to begin since the meat served here involves a
8/24/00 Thurs. 7:06 a.m. The Chair in the aisle next to my bunk
The proving ground for nonviolence continues to prove me a novice in the
field. Some person I do pray for, and right now itís best for me to do so at
a distance. Acts of kindness on the other hand far outweigh verbal violent
behavior. Iím very fortunate to have the three Afro-Americans, with whom
providence has gifted me, in my immediate neighborhood. Have a bus to catch
to my work site. Will no doubt be planting flowers today. Reading a short
account of the Tragedy of Colombia. Incredible suffering, torture and death.
Adds fuel to my endurance of place of mitigated punishment.
8/24/00 7:50 p.m. The Library A Table for two
Relative Quiet [Charlie touches on a point of clarification of his
response to a question in an interview the day of his incarceration, July
Relative to the irony of surrendering to an institution associated with the
government against which I protest: In addition to surrendering to what I
perceive to be God's will for me, I am surrendering to a superior material
force, that I do not choose to violently fight (for more than one reason).
My hope in prison as well as out is to speak truth to power and resist
injustice as I am led to do. Inspiration to act this way or that comes as a
meditation or one-on-one prayer or through the silence I try to maintain
while working. (This is probably the most difficult silence to maintain
amidst the plethora of body-bound bullshit of my fellow inmates, who canít
wait to whore, eat and drink upon release. Not all, but too many of my
working partners are so oriented. These poor fellows seem to have little to
no awareness of the spiritual side of their nature. I donít judge them. I
just feel sorry for them.)
8/25/00 Fri. 7:04 a.m. Bedside
Big day today a little anxious since this is the hour I'll be presenting
the enclosed statement on paying fines to the federal government. Pray to be
calm and joyful and non-confrontational and sympathetic to all who feel
bound to work in this system (that is) suffering from the absence of human
Statement enclosed (entry of August 25 refers)
To Bureau of Prisons, Lompoc, California
In anticipation of an inquiry into my intentions to begin payment on a
$10,000 fine ordered by the Eleventh District Federal Court, Columbus, Ga.,
June 8, 2000, I have prepared the following statement:
First, I need to say that I hold a fine of $10,000 for the commission of two
simple misdemeanors (nonviolent acts of civil disobedience Type B) to be
blatantly unreasonable and grossly unjust. To be sentenced to (a) year in a
federal prison and given a $10,000 fine by an employee of the institution
offended rather than a jury of my peers is a prostitution of the
Constitution. In 1991 I was charged with a felony for damaging government
property at the School of Americas, Ft. Benning, Ga. Convicted by a jury of
my peers I was sentenced to six months in a federal prison and ordered to
pay $633 restitution. No fine was imposed. Now, approximately 10 years later
I am given a sentence twice as long and a fine 11 times greater for
that cannot be compared in gravity to the felony of 1991.
When I was
asked to arrange for payment of restitution in 1991 I refused as a matter of
conscience to give any money to a government complicit in crimes against
humanity committed by men trained at the School of Americas. I have given
considerable thought and prayer to the morality of paying fines to the U. S.
Government, a government not only complicit in crimes like torture, rape and
assassination, but a government arrogant enough to disregard World Court
decisions when the ruling is not in its favor. My position on the payment of
fines to the U. S. Government remains the same as it was in 1991, with the
following exception: if the U. S. Government will pay indemnity compensation
to the victims of graduates of the School of Americas
I will make arrangements to pay fines directed toward me as a result of my
civil disobedience. In the meantime, the government can take whatever it
wants from me just as it takes whatever it wants from the Third World poor
via the training of third world militaries at schools like the School of
Thank you. Nothing personal here.
Charles J. Liteky #83276-020 Lompoc Federal Prison
8/27/Sunday 9:43 My bedside office, standing on a chair using my top bunk
as a desk. Works well.
[In this letter Charlie opens by reflecting further on an exchange about
non-violence with his 'boss' after requesting a change of work assignment]
When the boss in the carpenter shop said, 'It's a violent world over there,'
I did not interpret this as a threat. I think he was giving his apologia for
the use of force in violent or dangerous situations. I do know that I was
calm and ready to accept whatever consequences would follow from what I
conceived to be an act of conscience. The nonviolent person will suffer with
joy for an act of conscience. I felt good when I was reassigned without
hassle. Seems I had a chance to witness to a man with a little power. My own
experience with metamorphosis tells me that most of the time change,
especially spiritual change, is a bit-by-bit process. I've become content
with planting seeds. Life with the bully lately I've seen him only from a
distance. I don't think he knows that I exist; has no idea he is a problem
to me. I pray for him. One day I may set down to eat at his table, try to
engage in some light conversation like, 'Where did you get your attitude?' I
agree with the spiritual axiom that disturbance caused by others is an
indication that something is not right with us if we react negatively. Steep
is the road that leads to the kind of spiritual maturity that looks or sees
immediately the sick soul of violent people or institutions. What I feel and
think when faced with violence tells me who I am at that particular moment
like Gandhi says, 'I accept my limitations' and keep on truckin'. There is
too little time to be sad over what I am or am not.
Love and Peace,
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