Martin Sheen speaks at SOA Watch protest

FORT BENNING, GA (WTVM) –  Actor Martin Sheen addressed the crowd of protestors Sunday in support of closing the School of the Americas known as WHINSEC at Fort Benning.

After two days of workshops and protesting, members of the SOA Watch group and people who came to be a part of the movement, stood together one last time on Sunday morning at the gates of Fort Benning as actor Martin Sheen spoke to the crowd.

"There are so many innocent men and women who are killed and it's been going on for so long that there needs to be a presence here and there needs to be a voice that speaks truth to power," said Sheen to the protestors.

One of those voices is Mario Venegas. More than twenty years ago he stared death in the face when he was held prisoner at a concentration camp for treason in Chile for two years.  He claims that he was tortured day after day by officers of the Chilean Army that were trained at the School of the Americas.

"Being hanged up, submerged into water, constantly being treated like an animal inside with no food, with no access to get to the bathroom," says Venegas.  The experience still haunts him to this day.

He makes the trip from Chicago to Fort Benning each year in remembrance of others who weren't as fortunate to have made it out of the concentration camp, and torturing tactics, alive. He admires public figures like Sheen who stand beside him and other people in the movement.

"Showing his support, showing his solidarity, showing how he feels about this in terms that he's against torture, he's against the School of the Americas being open," Venegas elaborated.

Sheen further explained his position, "We've just accepted so much without question.  One of the most heinous things that we we've accepted are the drones and some, of course, operate right here."

WHINSEC public information officer Lee Rials says the accusations against the school are not true.  He says the curriculum for Latin American soldiers is no different from the one taught to American soldiers, except the language.

"It's absurd to think that a U.S. Military institution would do anything other than teach exactly what the law requires."

Venegas finds this hard to believe. He says that he will keep coming each year until someone hears his call. This makes the seventh visit for actor Martin Sheen, who also says he will continue to make the trip as well.

Columbus police say they do not know of anyone being arrested. However, the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer is reporting one person was taken into custody and has since been released on $1,000 bond.

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