WASHINGTON: Thirteen women and four men were arrested last month for digging a symbolic grave on the Pentagon's parade ground. "The School of the Americas (SOA) has left a trail of blood and suffering in every Latin American country [to which] its graduates have returned," said Father Roy Bourgeois, executive director of SOA Watch, an SOA watchdog group he founded in 1990. "We brought this truth back to the front door of the Pentagon where the trail begins."
The grave diggers were part of a vigil protesting the army's combat training school at Ft. Benning, Georgia. The graduates of this school, approximately 1,000 Latin American soldiers annually, have been cited for atrocities such as those committed during and after El Salvador's civil war by that country's death squads. Robert D'Aubuisson, organizer of the death squads, was one of SOA's better known graduates. Another, Manuel Noriega, is serving 40 years in a US federal prison for drug trafficking.
SOA defenders claim its training strengthens understanding of democratic values and respect for civil control of the military. Anne Munley, president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) representing 78,000 Catholic nuns, disagrees, saying, "The School... has trained leaders in tactics to violate human rights and has done so knowingly and deliberately."
Pentagon officials agreed to meet with LCWR and other religious leaders, veterans and peace organizations, but, 24 hours before the scheduled meeting, officials canceled. The office of Army Secretary Togo West told the groups it is their "policy to not meet with non-profit organizations to discuss ... the [SOA]." Last year the Pentagon released seven Spanish-language training manuals used at the SOA until 1991 that advocate the use of torture, execution, blackmail, truth serum and the arrest of relatives. They target labor organizers, religious workers, student groups and others working for and with the poor.
Twelve of those arrested were charged with destruction of government property and/or demonstrating without a permit. They are to appear in federal court on June 6. Their action was part of a 10-day vigil and lobby effort undertaken by 1,000 people from all over the country calling on Congress to close the SOA.
Representative Joseph P. Kennedy (D-MA) has introduced legislation (HR-611) which now has over 100 co-sponsors. A companion Senate bill is expected soon. For a list of the co-sponsors contact SOA's Washington office at 1719 Irving Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20010; Phone/Fax: (202) 234-3440.
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