George W. Bush repeatedly states that he is going to hunt down and smoke out terrorists anywhere they may be hiding around the globe. He would do well to look in his own backyard. The first thing that comes to mind (after the CIA and his father) is the School of Americas (SOA) in Fort Benning, Ga., a U.S. Army school that for decades has taught Latin Americans the fine arts of torture, assassination, intimidation and terror.
The same Congress that for decades has voted to keep the school open is ignoring this issue as it passes “tough new legislation against terrorism.” It makes sense that if you want to end terrorism in all its forms you wouldn’t continue to train terrorists with U.S. tax dollars.
Does the SOA (currently named the Western Hemispheric Institute for Security Cooperation) really train terrorists? Decide for yourself:
The U.S. Army established the school in 1946 in Panama. In 1963 the name was changed to the SOA and it took on a Cold War focus. In 1984 the school was forced out of Panama so it moved to Fort Benning. Nearly sixty thousand soldiers have been trained there among them notorious dictators such as Manuel Noriega and Omar Torrijos (Panama), Leopoldo Galtieri and Roberto Viola (Argentina), Juan Velasco Alvarado (Peru), Guillermo Rodriguez (Ecuador) and Hugo Banzer Suarez (Bolivia), as well as hundreds of assassins, torturers, death squad leaders and terrorists.
In addition to training dictators the SOA trained those responsible for the Uraba massacre in Colombia, the El Mozote massacre of 900 civilians in El Salvador, the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero in church in 1980, the La Cantuta massacre in Peru, the torture and murder of a U.N. worker in Chile, the rape and murder of four U.S. church women (three nuns and a missionary) in El Salvador in 1980, the list goes on and on.
Many of those responsible for the atrocities taking place in Colombia now were trained by the School of Americas. Trained in our school and funded by our tax dollars (Plan Colombia/the Andean Initiative) they terrorize and murder innocent civilians supposedly as part of a war on drugs that is nothing more than a struggle for their own corrupt power. As is the case anywhere SOA graduates are found, many of the crimes have been against labor leaders and anyone attempting to organize in Colombia. For this reason the AFL-CIO has signed a resolution to close the school and anyone in a union (or concerned with human rights abuses, the phony war on drugs, the safety of religious leaders, globalization, or Latin America) should protest this school and contact their congressional representatives about it.
In 1996 the school was forced to release to SOA Watch the training manuals used until 1991. The New York Times had this to say about the manuals: “Americans can now read for themselves some of the noxious lessons the United States Army taught thousands of Latin Americans ... [The SOA manuals] recommended interrogation techniques like torture, execution, blackmail and arresting the relatives of those being questioned.”
In all of his glory as a pretend President and pretend defender of freedom and democracy everywhere in the world (except here) Bush has taken on legendary demagogic proportions. Why is he overlooking the terrorists being trained in our country right now? Is it simply inconvenient like the Bill of Rights or allowing everyone to vote and counting their votes? We implore Bush to do ashe says – wipe out terrorism, starting with the School of Americas and the Central Intelligence Agency – but leave the Bill of Rights intact while you do it or you will be no better than the terrorists and dictators we oppose.
There will be a protest of the SOA this year (as there is every year) Nov. 16-18. This year, however, the police and military are doing everything they can to “defend the country from terrorism” by not allowing us to protest a terrorist training facility. Join us in Fort Benning, Georgia this year to demonstrate the kind of tactics that are actually useful against terrorism: peaceful civil disobedience. If we do not exorcise our civil rights we will certainly lose them.
Jack York is a member of the Young Communist League, USA in Buffalo, NY.