Monday, November 28, 2005

Protest against SOA continues for tenth year

Original Chimes Article Here

“It’s time for the SOA to drown in its own blood”-Major Joseph Blair,
Former instructor at the School Of the Americas

On Nov. 18 and 19 for the tenth consecutive year, a non-violent protest will be conducted against the School of Americas (SOA) in Fort Benning, Georgia. And, for the third consecutive year, a group of Calvin students will be journeying down to add their voices to the growing movement. Last year over 12,000 protesters converged at Fort Benning, and 4,408 of them committed civil disobedience by illegally protesting on the grounds of the Fort. With even larger numbers expected this year, it is not unreasonable to assume that if someone hasn’t heard about the SOA yet, they will soon.

The SOA was founded in Panama in 1946 as part of the United States’ effort to combat Communism. The school would take soldiers from governments favorable to the United States, and train them in counter-insurgency techniques. The school is premised on teaching undemocratic governments more effective ways to kill political dissidents, a fact which was troubling from the outset.

However, the poor human rights record set by SOA graduates has given even more cause to question the school. For instance, of the El Salvador officers responsible for the worst atrocities during the civil war (according to the UN Truth commission), two-thirds were SOA graduates. Out of 246 cited for atrocities in Colombia, 100 are SOA grads. Labor Union leaders are frequently killed by SOA graduates, and the El Mozote massacre, in which a whole village was slaughtered, was done by SOA graduates.

Because the church can sometimes be regarded as a threat to those in power, outspoken Christians have also been targeted by SOA alumni. This includes Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was assassinated by SOA graduates. It also includes three American nuns who were raped and murdered by SOA graduates, and six 6 Jesuit priests who were killed by SOA graduates.

The SOA acquired such a bad reputation in Latin America that it was nicknamed “Escuela de Golpes” or “School of Coups”, so named after the habit SOA graduates had of establishing military governments. Consequently, when the Panama Canal Treaty was signed, Panama wasted no time in making sure the SOA would leave with the Americans. In 1984, the school was moved up to Fort Benning.

It has been argued that the crimes committed by some SOA graduates are not representative of the whole school. After all, not all graduates of the School go on to commit human rights abuses. Although it is hard to justify training better-equipped soldiers for repressive governments, some point out that these governments are very friendly to U.S. economic interests.

However, in 1996, under pressure from human rights groups, the Pentagon released seven training manuals that had been used at the SOA until 1991. The training manuals taught interrogation techniques such as torture, execution, blackmail, and arresting the relatives of those being questioned. It was an embarrassing revelation after the SOA had claimed for years that it never taught torture techniques.

That was 1991. Ancient history, right? And the SOA has made many changes since then. It has added human rights components to its curriculum, and even given itself a new name.

Sadly, these changes are not close to sufficient. Of the 42 classes offered, only one focuses on democracy and human rights, and this course is not required. In fact, in 1997 only 13 students ended up taking this course. Much more popular are courses like “Military Intelligence,” and “Psychological Operations.” The human rights component added to the other courses make up only a small number of the total hours.

The United States government should get its act together because the protestors aren’t going away. Few movements have as broad a support as the movement to close the school down. One of the most outspoken critics of the school, Major Joseph Blair, is actually a former instructor and has written several articles about the undemocratic values the school teaches.

The first people to go to federal prison for protesting the SOA were both decorated Vietnam War veterans. Roy Bourgeois, the founder of the SOA Watch, an anti-SOA movement, received a Purple Heart in Vietnam before becoming a Catholic priest. Although the SOA has tried to portray protestors as ignorant radicals, veterans and nuns make up its visible element.

After ten years of growing opposition, it is becoming harder for the school to hide. Soon, it will be shown for what it is.

No comments: