Thursday, June 05, 2008

Close the School of the Americas

The School of the Americas is a military training facility in Columbus, Georgia that trains military forces from Latin America in techniques of torture and counterinsurgency. This facility is taxpayer funded and has hosted more than sixty thousand soldiers since it was opened in 1946. The SOA, which was renamed a few years ago to the Western Hemispheric Institute for Security and Cooperation, is known around the world for the role that it has played as an institution for training soldiers in techniques of torture.

Soldiers who have attended the School of the Americas have been indicted and identified with brutal military repressions, targeted violence across Central America and South America. As a candidate for federal office, I support legislation to close the School of the Americas because graduates of the SOA have been involved in the violation of human rights.

There have been several efforts to raise awareness regarding the SOA over the past years, including the recently passed House Resolution 5658. The House Resolution, which was part of the National Defense Re-Authorization Act for 2009, requires that the names, rank, country of origin and dates of attendance be made public for graduates and instructors of the school.

Graduates of the SOA have been involved in crimes and atrocities across Latin America. Many of these individuals have been identified and we are about to learn the identities of hundreds of graduates who went on to rape, torture and even kill the thousands of people who were disappeared in Central America in the 1980's and beyond. The Pentagon is afraid when the leaders of these death squads and human rights abusers are made public, then the public may turn against the SOA/WHINSEC.

The fact of the matter is that the general public has been against the School of the Americas for years, ever since it was revealed that six Jesuit priests and their housekeeper and her daughter were brutally murdered by graduates of the SOA. Then we learned that several nuns who were working in Central America were brutally raped and murdered by graduates of the SOA. Then the public learned that an entire village of 900 civilians was massacred by death squads trained in Columbus, Georgia. The public was outraged, and every year now, more than 20,000 people come to the gates of Fort Benning in November to call for Congress to close the School of the Assassins.

At a time when the United States is having serious problems with credibility in the eyes of the international community, closing the SOA/WHINSEC would go a long way toward restoring trust, security and cooperation around the world. The army, elected officials and the general public know that graduates of the SOA have included some of the worst human rights abusers in the global South. Closing this institution would send a clear message to Latin America and to our critics around the world that we are serious about restoring our international reputation.

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