Philip Gates, former Scottsdale Unified School District superintendent, was among 16 found guilty this week of trespassing on Nov. 19 at a Georgia military training center, where they say tactics are taught to foreign soldiers to suppress and torture people in mostly Latin American nations.
Gates, 70, and the others were found guilty Monday by federal court Magistrate G. Mallon Faircloth, a court official confirmed.
Gates, who is a retired Prescott resident and served as superintendent from 1982 to 1986, was sentenced to 60 days in a federal minimum security prison, a term to start sometime in the next four to six weeks.
Gates said in an act of civil disobedience, he joined other protesters by going through a fence on the grounds of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, formerly the School of the Americas, at Fort Benning, Ga.
Since 1946, some 60,000 members of Latin American militaries have been trained at the center, and critics say skills learned there have been turned against populist movements and used to mistreat citizens.
Gates and most defendants read personal statements on the witness stand.
The former school chief, who spent 14 years as a Scottsdale school administrator, shared how he had been a Presbyterian peace worker in Colombia for two months in 2005 and heard first-hand stories of human rights abuses by military personnel who had graduated from the Georgia school.
Gates said he was encouraged that in June the U.S. House of Representatives was only 15 votes shy of passing a measure that would require the school to close, while 300 Catholic bishops penned a letter for its closing and the Presbyterian Church’s highest level in the U.S. has twice passed resolutions for a shutdown.
“If my efforts to garner support to close the (facility) contribute to that end, my act of disobedience at Fort Benning last November will not have been in vain,” Gates said.