Published on Monday, December 8, 2003 by the Miami Herald
Close the old School of the Americas -- for Good
by Joseph E. Mulligan
About 10,000 people of all ages and walks of life took part in a Nov. 21-23 protest against the U.S. Army's School of the Americas (now the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation) at Ft. Benning, Ga.
SOA-WHISC has given military training to thousands of soldiers from Latin America, some of whom have gone on to become notorious torturers, assassins and other human-rights violators.
There are many reasons for opposing this institution and for asking members of Congress to vote to close it.
We were at the gates of Ft. Benning to repudiate the U.S. Army's practice in the past of using torture manuals in the training of Latin American soldiers.
We were there also to reject the SOA' record of training dictators and murderers. Some of its graduates participated in the brutal assassination of the six Jesuit priests and their two women co-workers in San Salvador in 1989 -- the anniversary of which is the occasion for the annual protest in Georgia.
In another case, Father James Carney, who had been in basic training at Ft. Benning before serving in Europe during World War II in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, disappeared in Honduras in 1983; some of the Honduran troops alleged to have been involved in his torture and disappearance were products of the SOA.
But we were not expressing our concern only about past atrocities. Our concern goes beyond the question of whether a few human-rights units are included in the institutès curriculum. Indeed, when I visited the SOA in 1990, some instructors told me that some mention was being made of the notion of human rights but that the trainees did not take it seriously, throwing in the teachers' faces the facts of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and other U.S. atrocities.
• One of my main reasons for demanding that the U.S. government close SOA-WHISC has to do with the recruitment of Latin American troops into the military strategies and operations of the U.S. government. SOA-WHISC is a symbol and instrument of this, as its very name indicates.
Other countries of the hemisphere have been pressured into sending token forces (about 200 from each of several nations) to cooperate in a military occupation that the Bush administration has defined as necessary for U.S. security. Do the people of Latin America need to participate in this kind of ''security cooperation''? Troops from the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua have joined U.S. soldiers in Iraq. This is especially ironic in the case of Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic, because those countries were occupied by the U.S. military in the early 20th century.
• Another reason for closing SOA-WHISC has to do with the nature and purpose of the Latin American military forces. They do not exist primarily to defend one nation against another but to protect an unjust and inequitable distribution of resources within each country against movements of social and political change.
By training and equipping the armed forces of Latin America, the U.S. military is strengthening the hand of the privileged elites in their efforts to repress unions, farmers, students and others struggling for justice. The most needed priority for Latin America is not further militarization.
Joseph E. Mulligan, an American Jesuit priest, works in Nicaragua with community-based organization.
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