Herger defends military school Print
Written by <b>Larry Mitchell, <i>Chico Enterprise Record</b></i>   
Tuesday, 13 June 2006 00:00
While he has concerns about the training center formerly known as the School of the Americas, Rep. Wally Herger, R-Chico, said he believes it still deserves support.

On Friday, Herger voted with the majority in the House to defeat an amendment to cut off funding for the school, which trains military officers from Latin American countries.

The amendment, sponsored by two Democrats, Reps. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts and John Lewis of Georgia, was defeated on a 218-188 vote.

The vote mostly followed party lines. Voting for the amendment to end funding were 158 Democrats, 29 Republicans and one Independent. Voting against the amendment were 184 Republicans and 34 Democrats.

"I, too, am concerned by human-rights violations committed by a small number of graduates of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation or its predecessor, the U.S. Army School of the Americas," Herger was quoted as saying in an e-mail.

"I believe they should be investigated by the appropriate agencies, and those responsible should be fully prosecuted under the relevant laws," he stated. "However, by helping to provide professional education and training to eligible individuals from many of our neighboring countries, the Institute is designed to help strengthen relations between participating nations, promote democratic values and encourage the military personnel and law enforcement of other countries to respect and protect the human rights of their citizens."

Graduates of the school have been implicated in some horrendous crimes, said Christy Pardew, communications coordinator for School of the Americas Watch, a group that seeks to have the center closed.

As examples, she cited the 1981 killing of Archbishop Oscar Romero and the 1989 murders of a 14-year-old girl, her mother, and six Jesuit priests. The victims in these two incidents, which occurred in El Salvador, had advocated for the rights of the poor, she said.

Each fall, since 1990, thousands of people have demonstrated against the school. Last fall, 77-year-old Dorothy Parker of Chico was among the 19,000 demonstrators who gathered at Fort Benning, in Georgia, where the school is located. After the protest, Parker joined a small group that chose to walk onto the base and be arrested. As a result, she spent 57 days in a federal prison. She was released last week.

Pardew said Friday's vote in the House encouraged her. Beforehand, there was a good debate, which clearly presented issues to members of the House, she said. Her group will continue working to block funding for the center.

In 1999, an amendment to cut off funding to the school passed in the House, she said, but funding was restored when the measure was reconciled with legislation passed in the Senate. A similar amendment was voted on in the House in 2000, but it failed.

Pardew said in 2000, the School of the Americas was closed. It was then reopened in 2001 with a new name, the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, and the same mission, she said.

In his e-mail, Herger said he believes important reforms have been put in place at the center.

"I do not believe the Institute should be suspended because of the isolated actions of previous graduates, and I believe it plays an important role in advancing respect for democratic values and human rights," he wrote.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 02 June 2010 20:16