Controversial Army School Deserves Second Look Print
Friday, 07 January 2005 00:00
Speaking with a Maryknoll Sister earlier this week I caught wind of an old debate that was entirely new to me.

I was sitting in the newsroom Monday morning when Mary Driscoll of the Maryknoll Sisters, a Catholic order, came in to give me a news tip.

She told me all about her order and some of the work they do throughout the world.

I had heard of the Maryknoll Sisters before. I knew they did a lot of disaster relief and missionary work overseas. But then she told me about the cause for which they were apparently famous.

I hate to be out of the loop when it comes to a political debate even for a day. It turns out that I had been out of the loop for more than 10 years on this debate.

Driscoll told me her order has been protesting the U.S. Army's School of the Americas (SOA) since 1990. Every year they gather to protest at the gates of Fort Benning, Ga., where the school is also.

I was shocked that I had never heard this. I read national newspapers every day; I watch national news every evening. I read all the political books. (Well, all those that matter anyway.)

And I have never heard of this. Heck, I even know a few soldiers at Fort Benning and they have never mentioned anything to me.

In mid-November more than 16,000 protesters gathered there to protest the school. Among them were Maryknoll Sisters, Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, Catholic priests, college students and many others.

About 200 were arrested for stepping onto Fort Benning property. Among them was Sister Lelia Mattingly of Louisville.

Mattingly, 63, was in Bardstown Monday visiting family and I had an opportunity to speak with her about her order's ongoing cause and the terms of her sentencing.

The School of the Americas -- or as Mattingly termed it School of the Assassins -- is a military school that educates among others, Latin American military, paramilitary and police forces.

The problem, she explained, is that Latin American countries rarely use their military forces against combat enemies but rather against their own people.

It was 1989 when a Catholic Archbishop, Oscar Romero, four U.S. women and six Jesuit priests were killed at the hands of SOA graduates in El Salvador, Mattingly told me through her tears. That was when the protesting began for the Maryknolls.

Naturally I had to do a little research.

It turns out that since then, SOA graduates have gone on to kill labor union organizers, fire live rounds into crowds of protesters and crush anti-dictatorship resistance movements.

Many graduates have served as henchmen for some of the world's most notorious brutal dictators. Some, such as Manuel Noriega, Omar Torrijos or Guillermo Rodriguez have become dictators themselves.

In 1996, the Pentagon declassified training manuals used at the school that taught
torture methods. The manuals have since been

All this and Mattingly is the one being put in jail?

Mattingly told me there has been a bill to close the school in either the U.S. House or the U.S. Senate every year since the protest began. The bill has been laid to waste every year.

The school changed its name and rewrote its charter in 2000. It's now called the Western Hemisphere Institute of Security

"New name, same shame," Mattingly quipped. She questioned how we were to fight a war on terrorism when we are teaching terror tactics.

I looked everywhere for someone to defend the school.

I found the school's homepage (

The site seemed to list more about the historic building in which the school is located rather than the actual curriculum at the institute.

According to the site information, the school was dedicated to democracy and human rights. But, am I to believe words over actions?

I looked for more and finally did find a column defending the school. But it was written by a military affairs expert from the Carlisle Group (which is one of the biggest defense investors in the world.) So how am I to believe the writer isn't just a little bit bias?

It seems the school's biggest defense from his column was that "not all of its graduates go on to work for or become brutal dictators."

Surely someone can do better than that.

The school obviously has its defenders, otherwise it wouldn't exist. I will continue to look and Mattingly will continue to protest.

In the meantime, the school will continue to hold onto a congressional charter and consume $300 million a year in taxpayer money.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 18 January 2005 08:18