/** reg.elsalvador: 30.0 **/
** Topic: Close the SOA **
** Written 11:51 PM Nov 9, 1996 by oso in cdp:reg.elsalvador **
From: Dennis Dunleavy and Karen Sauer <email@example.com >
Seven years ago, on the morning of November 16, 1989, a company of elite Salvadoran soldiers entered the grounds of the University of Central America in San Salvador, El Salvador and dragged six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter from their beds. Once taken outside the priests were then summarily executed.
This atrocity by any standard is disturbing and horrific, but what makes it even more appalling is that 19 of the 26 soldiers implicated in the murders were graduates of the US Army's School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia.
The Jesuit executions, is only one example of a very long and shameful legacy of atrocities throughout Latin America perpetrated by graduates of the school over the past fifty years.
The training of Latin American soldiers in the United States has failed in its mission to professionalize the region's military, wasted the taxpayer's money, and should be closed down immediately.
Since 1946, the training center, often called the school of the assassins, has produced ten dictators and hundreds of others connected with human rights violations, drug trafficking and organized crime.
A recent investigation of the school by the Pentagon has shown that manuals used during the 48-week course instructed trainees in what can be classified as civil rights abuses.
"Taxpayer dollars have been used to train military officers in executions, extortion, beatings and other acts of intimidation--all clear civil rights abuses which have no place in a civilized society." said Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy 2d, the congressional leader of two unsuccessful attempts to have the school closed.
Some of the school's more notorious graduates include, General Manuel Noreiga of Panama, now serving a 40 year prison sentence in the US for drug trafficking, Bolivian dictator, Hugo Banzer Suarez, who came to power during a coup over a civilian- led government and who sheltered the nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie and Argentine dictator, Leopoldo Galtieri, one of the leaders of that country's bloody "dirty war" in the 1970s where thousands of students, labor organizers and activists were tortured, disappeared and murdered.
More recently, SOA graduate and Haitian death squad leader General Raul Cedras led a coup over that country's democratically elected president Jean Bertrand Aristed.
In Colombia, 120 out of 245 military officers connected with the worse human rights abuses were SOA graduates according to a 1992 investigation by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
In 1981, in El Salvador more than 1,000 peasants were massacred by the Salvadoran army in the tiny remote village of El Mozote. Among the twelve officers connected to the killings, ten were graduates from the school.
Why would the U.S. government actively engage in supporting the training of military officers that have been found to have committed such terrible crimes against humanity?
A School of the Americas spokesman compared the criticism of the school with the idea of closing down the Wharton School of Business just because Michael Milken, the man convicted of bank fraud, had graduated from the institution.
Advocates, however, in favor of closing the school argue that if the Wharton School had graduated a thousand Michael Milkens over a period of fifty years they would certainly have undergone more public scrutiny to either change they way they were teaching or to get out of the business all together.
Even the Pentagon has said tactics employed by the school violate American policy and principle.
Yet the school continues to operate unimpeded with the backing of the US Congress and the White House.
More than 4,000 Latin American soldiers a year graduate from the school at a cost of $3.7 million annually. During the nearly one year long training period only eight hours of this time is dedicated to the understanding the concepts of civil and human rights.
During mock combat sessions held at the school, Catholic priests portrayed by US Army chaplains, are routinely shot at, beaten or harassed by the trainees. Human rights activists and journalists are also subjected to a similar treatment despite attempts to educate the soldiers as to the rights of civilians caught up in a combat situation.
Some people will argue that there is no clear connection between the training offered at the school and the actions of its graduates, but since so little emphasis is given to teaching and protecting the basic human rights of civilians in Latin America it can be inferred that these sorts of values and ideals serve no military purpose.
Although it would be foolish to try and prove that the school condones the abuses of human rights by its graduates, the teaching of values and ethics have not played an important role in the training.
The 1991 murder of a US citizen who operated an inn for tourists in the jungles of Guatemala may clarify why the school "looks the other way" when it comes to the immoral strong-armed tactics of some of it graduates.
School of the Americas graduate, Colonel Julio Roberto, was implicated in the killing of Michael Devine, the innkeeper, but it came only after his connected to the CIA was made public. Once Alpirez's cover was blown the US government found it necessary to sacrifice him to the press.
Considered a valuable asset to the CIA, Alpirez was originally afforded protection and impunity from the murder by the US government. He was also receiving a salary of $45,000 a year from the agency as an informant. In addition, Alpirez has been implicated in the 1992 disappearance, torture and murder of a Guatemalan rebel leader who was married to an American attorney.
Is it fair to blame the School of Americas for the actions of Colonel Alpirez or any of the hundreds of other human rights abusers that have graduated there?
Devine was killed by Alpirez because he knew too much about the colonel's illegal rare wood trafficking operation. If Devine knew what Alpirez was doing isn't a very likely chance that the CIA and the pentagon also knew about it?
The SOA's training program is also misguided in that it encourages Latin American military officers to want the "good life" they experience during their training in this country. When they return to their own countries they often find other means in which they can attain status and wealth outside the law. Alpirez' trafficking in rare timber is a case in point and there are countless others.
Some of the perks trainees enjoy at taxpayer expense while at the School of Americas include trips to disneyland, outings to major league baseball games and pizza parties.
Why is our country in the business of training the militaries of Latin America anyway?
What do US taxpayers gain by paying for this kind of training academy, especially when our country is seeking ways to cut federal programs that benefit its own citizens?
According to the School of the America Watch, "Since 1946, the US Army School of the Americas has trained over 60,000 Latin American soldiers, costing US taxpayers millions of dollars. The sorrowful consequence of this training is well documented by the United Nations and other human rights authorities. SOA graduates have gone home and committed atrocity after atrocity against their own people, including massacres of entire communities, assassinations, rapes, torture and disappearance."
Now is the time to ask ourselves if we really need to be supporting a school like this? Instead, we must search for alternatives to such a training academy, one that seeks new and creative ways of promoting reforms and democracy in Latin America--one that values the sanctity of human life, self-determination and all the rights afforded a civilized society.