The FBI has been keeping tabs on SOA Watch, the human rights group that monitors the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia.
In fact, the FBI has elevated its concern to “priority” level, claiming that the group is subject to “counterterrorism” monitoring, according to documents released on May 4 by the ACLU and its Georgia chapter.
SOA Watch was founded by Father Roy Bourgeois back in 1990, and it organizes annual protests at Fort Benning that now draw about 10,000 protesters. (The School of the Americas, in a PR stunt, has changed its name to the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.)
“Our intentions are peaceful and our commitment unwavering as we nonviolently call attention to a school that has trained some of the worst human rights abusers in this hemisphere,” says Father Bourgeois in the ACLU press release.
The FBI itself recognizes the nonviolent nature of the group, according to one memo from October 2003. “The leaders of the SOA Watch have taken strides to impart upon the protest participants that the protest should be a peaceful event,” the FBI document states.
The FBI denies doing anything wrong in its investigation of SOA Watch.
“Our reaction is the same to all the other ACLU allegations about FBI spying,” says Bill Carter, a spokesperson for the agency. “The FBI does not investigate individuals based on First Amendment activities. The FBI investigates only when we have information that an individual or a group may be involved either in violent activity or national security issues.”