Shut the Doors on a Disgraced Military School

Human rights activists, religious leaders, and military veterans will
descend on Fort Benning, Ga.
this weekend to demand the closing of a notorious military training facility
that has tutored some of Latin America's
most brutal soldiers and dictators.

The U.S. Army School of the Americas,
renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation in 2001, has
a long and shameful history of teaching torture, extortion and execution to
infamous graduates like Manuel Noriega, the former dictator of Panama.
Nearly 60,000 alumni have returned to Bolivia,
El Salvador, and Nicaragua
to suppress human rights leaders, political dissidents and innocent civilians
swept up in the region's often violent struggles for social justice.

Two former instructors at the school, Col. Alvaro Quijano and Maj.
Wilmer Mora, were arrested last August for supporting the leader of a Colombian
drug cartel who is on the FBI's most wanted list. Last year, Bolivia's government joined Costa Rica, Argentina,
Uruguay and Venezuela
in announcing it would withdraw soldiers from the school. Bolivia has good reason to end its
affiliation with this disgraced facility. Hugo Banzer Suarez, who ruled Bolivia
in the 1970s under a brutal military dictatorship, attended the school in 1956
and was later inducted into its "Hall of Fame." In 1989, six Jesuit
priests, their co-worker and her teenage daughter were massacred in El Salvador.
A U.S. congressional task
force reported that those responsible were trained at the School of the Americas.

Interrogation manuals used by the facility and declassified by the
National Security Archive shed light on a grim litany of "coercive
techniques" similar to those used by U.S. military officers to abuse
detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Several torture survivors from Latin
America will be among the 15,000 nonviolent protestors at Ft. Benning
gathering for prayerful vigils, rallies and workshops organized by School of
the Americas Watch, founded by Fr. Roy Bourgeois, a Maryknoll Catholic priest.
Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts and Rep.
John Lewis of Georgia
have sponsored legislation to cut off funding to the facility. Last June, 203
members of Congress supported the McGovern-Lewis amendment, only six votes shy
of the number needed to pass.

President-elect Barack Obama spoke eloquently on the campaign trail
about the need to reclaim America's
moral standing in the world. He can start by issuing an executive order to shut
down the school, heralding a new direction for U.S.-Latin America foreign
policy. It's long past time to close the doors on a facility that is
emblematic of how unchecked U.S.
militarism often spreads violence and instability around the world. According
to the Congressional Research Service, the U.S. is the leading supplier of
weapons to the developing world with over $10 billion in arms sold. When lofty
rhetoric about planting seeds of democracy is undermined by destructive foreign
policies the world has reason to view our nation as hypocritical and dangerous
rather than a shining beacon of freedom. As award-winning New York Times
foreign correspondent Stephen Kizner reports in his book Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change
from Hawaii to Iraq
, our government has for many years pulled the
strings of military, political and economic power in foreign lands with
devastating consequences.

A new model for international engagement guided by a commitment to the
global common good and social justice is needed in our rapidly shrinking world.
This means choosing diplomacy over unilateralism, fair trade agreements, debt
cancellation for impoverished nations and comprehensive immigration reform that
addresses the connections between poverty and migration. The Catholic priests
and nuns, union leaders, students and committed peacemakers who will stand
together in solidarity at the School of the Americas bring the best of their minds
and hearts to these profound moral struggles of our time. Those of us who still
believe that another world is possible should join them.

Join Us: News for people demanding a better world

Common Dreams is powered by optimists who believe in the power of informed and engaged citizens to ignite and enact change to make the world a better place.

We're hundreds of thousands strong, but every single supporter makes the difference.

Your contribution supports this bold media model—free, independent, and dedicated to reporting the facts every day. Stand with us in the fight for economic equality, social justice, human rights, and a more sustainable future. As a people-powered nonprofit news outlet, we cover the issues the corporate media never will. Join with us today!

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.