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Home About Us Prisoners of Conscience Articles Why I Chose to Cross the Line at Fort Benning
Why I Chose to Cross the Line at Fort Benning PDF Print E-mail

Last November, when I first came to the vigil at Fort Benning, Georgia, to write about it for the Buffalo Alternative Press, I was more moved by the experience than I had anticipated. I felt that something deep inside of me had changed. I thought long and hard about coming back to Fort Benning to cross the line. I wondered if I was ready to take such a big step. Just the thought of it was frightening to me. I filled my diary with both my doubts and my feelings. I continued the research that I had written for Alt Press. I read the report that Amnesty International had written about SOA/WHINSEC and about similar schools, both in the United States and abroad. I read about human rights abuses by U.S.-trained military. I read about the struggle of the U'Wa Indians of Colombia to protect the cloud forest that they considered sacred against the incursions of Occidental Petroleum and other oil companies. I read about the fragility of the cloud forests. Once they are gone, they can never be replaced. I remembered the words of the U'Wa chief, who said that the oil deep in the ground is the lifeblood of mother earth.

To drill the oil from a place where its people believe that, to do so, you are draining the earth of its blood seems so cruel to me.

Yet the Bush administration has requested more than one hundred million dollars in military aid to protect the pipeline in a conflicted part of Colombia. The pipeline gets attacked regularly, and spills are all-too-common. The result is the destruction of precious vegetation, birds, and animals, some of which are on the verge of extinction. Do we really need Colombia's oil that desperately?

And, in Iraq, the United States made sure that the oil ministry was well protected. At the same time, the museums were being looted of priceless antiquities, and the hospitals were being robbed of needed medicines. I wondered: what is our foreign policy about? Democracy? Human rights? Or is it about oil acquisition?

So far, we've failed to get the oil out of the ground in Iraq. We seem to be bogged down in a never-ending guerrilla war there. We would love to get the oil from Colombia, a nation that does not belong to OPEC and is unbounded by that organization's production quotas.

Is all of that oil really waiting beneath foreign soil for us to drill it up for our own use? Do we have the right to get it, by any means possible?

SOA/WHINSEC claims to be a new and improved school, with an agenda that focuses on training Latin American troops in the principles of human rights and democracy, not in protecting oil wells and pipelines to ensure our access to the good stuff. I want so much to be able to believe the government's claims.
But, no matter how hard I try, I just cannot believe. If human rights are not a priority of the current administration, how could it be a priority of the military, which claims to be subservient to the civil authorities? Making these claims even more difficult to believe is the fact that the U.S. government has never investigated the training offered at the school or the behavior of its graduates, some of whom are notorious, such as Leopoldo Galtieri of Argentina, Augusto Pinochet of Chile, Manuel Noriega of Panama, and many others.

I would like to see the recommendations of Amnesty International implemented. I would like to see WHINSEC's operations suspended, pending a thorough investigation by an independent commission. I would like to see redress made to the victims of crimes perpetrated by SOA graduates. I want to hear U.S. government officials apologize to the people who are haunted by memories of torture and other forms of violence at the hands of SOA graduates.

And I don't believe that U.S. Army can operate a human rights school at Fort Benning. If such a school is to exist, it ought to be located in another country and it ought to be administered by the Organization of American States.

Knowing all of this, I had to do something. So I chose to cross the line, as the strongest way that I know to express my displeasure with a foreign policy that is both misguided and dangerous.

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