Insisting that global terrorism
can only be stopped by "destroying it where it grows," George W. Bush
has conveniently forgotten the US military's own terrorist training facility:
the infamous Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHISC). Located
in Fort Benning, Georgia, WHISC has trained over 60,000 Latin American soldiers
in the most heinous of counter-insurgency warfare techniques, and its graduates
have gone on to comprise a bloody who's who of coups, chaos and destruction.
WHISC is also the reason several
non-violent protestors languish in US jails today, and with a massive
demonstration planned at the WHISC site November 15-17, that number is about
to skyrocket. Between the upcoming protest and a House bill aimed at shutting
down the operation once and for all, it's clear America's very own terrorist training
camp will soon be in the spotlight. Less certain is whether the result will be
a brutal chapter of our history closed, or a deadly double standard expanded.
Established by the US military in
Panama in 1946, WHISC(or School of the Americas/SOA, as it was previously known)
was booted out and forced to relocate stateside in 1984. Its graduates have repeatedly
been implicated in cases of torture, rape, massacre and assassination, their victims
frequently social rights activists and other civilians. Small wonder that former
Panamanian President Jorge Illueca described the school as the "biggest base
for destabilization in Latin America."
Bowing to public pressure back home,
in 1996 the Pentagon released several of the school's training manuals, detailing
a curriculum advocating the use of blackmail, psychological warfare, torture and
execution. By 2000, the appalling degree of human rights abuses committed by SOA
graduates prompted several in the House of Representatives to try closing the
school, but just before the key congressional vote, SOA personnel presented the
Department of Defense with a compromise: "Some of your bosses have told us
that they can't support anything with the name 'School of the Americas' on it.
Our proposal addresses this concern. It changes the name." And with that
SOA was closed, WHISC was duly opened, and in spite of a few cosmetic additions
to the curriculum, America's terrorist training camp continued business as usual.
The farcical charade doesn't get
very far with Fr. Roy Bourgeois, founder of School of the Americas Watch. One
of the remarkable priests whose untiring social activism is detailed in Strabala
& Palacek's "Prophets
Without Honor," Bourgeois sees the Latin American military's role as
keeping "the poor on edge and the small elite in power. The School of Americas
is connected to that." Bourgeois has done repeated stints in US prisons due
to criminal trespass, or "crossing the line" into Fort Benning - but
he isn't alone. Of the 10,000 who peacefully protested at WHISC last November,
a full 36 were given sentences of up to six months in federal prison, and it's
anyone's guess how many new US political prisoners will result from the upcoming
A bipartisan effort to shut down
WHISC was narrowly defeated in the House last year, but a similar bill (HR
1810) has been reintroduced by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA). HR 1810 already has
112 sponsors, and if passed would not only close the school but also establish
a joint congressional task force "to conduct an assessment of the kind of
education and training that is appropriate for the Department of Defense to provide
to military personnel of Latin American nations."
Which is probably why the Bush administration
is pushing through plans to set up a successor
to WHISC in Costa Rica. With billions in US military aid funneled to
dirty wars throughout Latin America, local fighters are needed to carry out Washington's
agenda, and their training cannot hinge on such niceties as law or public opposition.
Case in point: Colombia has received military equipment and a $1.3 billion aid
package- not to mention over 250 US military personnel on the ground - to help
the government fight against what it calls counter-insurgents (frequently peasants
or community leaders such as educators, union organizers and religious workers).
Add to that a full 10,000 Colombian WHISC/SOA graduates and plans to set up WHISC-oriented
training locally, and it's clear the US is not only inviting mission creep, but
more importantly entering a bloody and unethical quagmire.
The choice is ours: pay lip-service
to fighting global terrorism as we secretly conduct terrorist training on the
side, or confront this beast wherever it grows, both abroad and at home.
Heather Wokusch is a free-lance
writer. She can be contacted via her web site at www.heatherwokusch.com