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Home About Us Prisoners of Conscience Court Statements Laura Slattery
Laura Slattery PDF Print E-mail
Judge Faircloth, members of the court system, co-defendants, family and friends:

This past year and a half has been a time of much agonizing and discernment (but also joy) around deciding to what degree I wanted to be involved in the struggle to close the SOA/Whinsec. As a former officer and graduate of the US Military Academy, I have felt a certain ambivalence of speaking out against a US military institution. I have felt sometimes that I am caught in between two worlds. I remember my mindset when I was in the Service - trying to do good, following orders, serving my country and democracy. I had a deep down, what I?ll call awareness, that the US was number one in the world. (our way of life, our principles, values). I did not doubt this, and I don?t think many soldiers do. I like soldiers for the most part ? their sense of duty and selflessness and can see that most times soldiers are honorable folks just trying to do their job.

And yet, there is a different perspective to be seen, and the two do not line up. The other perspective is that of the Latin American peasant, catechist, labor organizer. I have been so moved by their perspective, and by a concern for their lives, that I found myself hanging my last army jacket on the fence at Benning a little over a year ago, and crossing the line onto the post this past November.

I want to believe in my government, to support it; I want to believe that everything will be alright, that we are the ?good guys? in the fight against evil. But my experience of living in El Salvador at the conclusion of the 12 yr. US-supported (and probably sponsored) civil war won?t allow me to do so. My experience of living in Mexico for 8 months, of visiting and conducting nonviolence trainings in Colombia and East Timor, of researching some of the atrocities that our government has sponsored or even orchestrated, won?t allow me to do so. More and more I find myself questioning what the US is doing training all these soldiers from countries all over the world. In Unmatched Power, Unmet Principles, Amnesty International states that we are training over 100,000 soldiers and police in 150 countries yearly. That is about ? of the countries in the world that we are training in how better to, in the words of the infantry, ?close with and destroy the enemy?? Why are we, the number one democracy in the world, the experts in the ?art of war?? and why are we exporting that expertise to the rest of the world. We are also the number one arms seller and arms-gifter in the world. The lack of acknowledgement that there is a large gulf between what we are doing abroad and how we view ourselves in the world, as defenders of democracy and moral leaders, lies at the root of much of our violence I believe.

I heard Colonel Downey speaking in September when veterans had gone to the capital to lobby for the closure of Whinsec/SOA. He said ?we all know what Latin American militaries are in their country. What better way to influence them positively than to have them train in the US, and have us teach them human rights training.? I am glad that Col. Downey is proud of his position and his soldiers, but I think that he forgets history when he speaks like this. He forgets that it was the SOA that has been training Latin American militaries for the last 50 years (60,000 soldiers); that torture manuals have been found; that people have testified to learning torture at the school; that it has the reputation in Latin America for being a School of Assassins. He forgets the overthrow of Allende; the support of the Contras; the support for the death squads. Our hands are not clean, and to place all the blame on the Latin American militaries and to present ourselves, as I believe Downey did, as the rectifiers of those institutions, without acknowledgment of our hand in creating them is false. The SOA closed because it ?completed its mission? but no investigation has taken place into the very serious allegations brought on by its critics.

In a Pentagon video of the SOA a couple of years ago, it stated that the main mission of the school was to expose Latin American soldiers to ?our way of life.? That makes me think that along with the psychological operations and low-intensity conflict training (which has been, in Latin America, a war against the poor who have been organizing for a better life, as near as I can tell it), that we are passing on an ideology to the Latin American soldiers that engenders a disdain of their own people, people who work the land, indigenous, for those who are not part of the ?western civilization? capitalistic model. I think it is precisely Col Downey?s attitude and the sentiment of the video that facilitates this disdain; which leads to abuses of power.

Defenders of the School say they are now teaching Human Rights at the SOA. For soldiers the mission always comes first. One can talk about professionalism and human rights, but it is really all about mission for the soldier. This mission can be so all consuming that violations of human rights and ?collateral damage? can be seen as regrettable, but justifiable. And all to often the mission in Latin America is to silence those who are speaking for human rights and clamouring for a better and more just life. And all to often the soldiers are getting the training on how to do that from our courses on counter-insurgency.

To have an army to defend our constitution is one thing, one to defend perceived security threats and/or our economic interests is another, and is inconsistent with the principles upon which this country was founded.

I know that I don?t have all the facts and know that if I studied daily for the next ten years I wouldn?t have all the facts, because we are dealing with the military and one of its main tenets is secrecy. I am just a concerned citizen who has investigated about as much as an ordinary citizen should have to. I was willing to ?cross the line? and suffer the consequences because I am not satisfied by what I have seen that everyone is acting in good faith, and because I want us as a nation to examine our foreign policy and the attitudes of superiority that I believe may lay behind it.

In closing, I just wanted to say that some might see my crossing the line as a betrayal of my fellow servicemen/women and veterans. But to not speak out of what I have heard, seen, and learned would not only be a betrayal of my commitment to integrity and duty, but a betrayal of my brothers and sisters in Latin America who are dying as a direct or indirect result of the policies taught at the SOA/Whinsec.

 

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