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Home SOAW LATINA Historia del movimiento SOA Watch Rev. Charles Booker-Hirsch
Rev. Charles Booker-Hirsch PDF Print E-mail
Since the tragedy of 911, we have learned some of the ways Osama bin Laden has schooled his Al Qaeda organization into a formidable terrorist organization. No major media organization I know of, however, dares today to discuss how for over five decades -- the last two decades on our own soil -- our own government systematically has been operating a much larger terrorist school.

Established in Panama in 1946 as a hemispheric Cold War beachhead, the U.S. Army School of the Americas {SOA}, which operates solely for the training of Latin American military officers, was moved to Ft. Benning in Columbus, GA in 1984. Graduates of the school include Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega and Bolivian dictator Hugo Banzer; the assassins of an archbishop, six Jesuit priests and four American churchwomen; and countless other military strongmen responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands.

From 1989-93, I worked with and heard the graphic persecution stories of untold numbers of Central American refugees fleeing de facto military dictatorships. It was no coincidence that the majority of SOA graduates in those years hailed from the Central American countries of Guatemala and El Salvador. Today, the majority of trainees are imported from Colombia, where our government has pumped over $2 million of military aid a day over the last two years into a plainly bogus "war on drugs" that has only served to inflame the 40 year civil war there. Just last week, a narrow House majority freed this "drug eradication" money to openly engage in counterinsurgency operations. Vietnam, anyone?

In 1996 the Pentagon was forced to release training manuals used at the school that advocated the use of torture, extortion and execution. Even after these were made public, Defense officials continued to point out that most of the school's graduates had not committed the scores of human rights abuses against the millions of refugees fleeing the wrath that's come. This may be true. At the same time, for the last 56 years most of the Latin American military officers who actually ordered these abuses learned their lessons well through our taxpayer-supported SOA.
After the House of Representatives decisively voted to cut funding for the school in 1999, a House-Senate conference committee voted 8-7 to keep it open. The Pentagon reacted with a ploy to distract criticism and keep the SOA open. In the 2001 Defense Authorization bill, the Pentagon vowed to shut down the SOA and to open a ?new? school in the same building, with mostly the same staff, a cosmetically changed curriculum and the same mission. An admenment to the bill, which would have closed the school and installed a congressional task force to investigate the connection between the SOA and human rights violations in Latin America, was narrowly defeated (204:214). The SOA is continuing its murderous buiseness under its new name: Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation {WHISC}. Even SOA proponents saw no difference in the much-touted renaming: Georgia's late Sen. Paul Coverdell assured his constituents the name switch was "a cosmetic change", and the Columbus {GA} Ledger-Inquirer strongly concurred in a recent editorial. Different name -- same shame. Orwellian Doublespeak, anyone?
Please join the campaign to shut down the SOA. The irony again is that, in the midst of its current war on terrorism, the US unleashes well-trained terrorists yearly from this school. As the Bush administration is engaging in fighting terrorism from a few rogue enemies to the East, it continues to cultivate a terrorist training ground to oppress the peoples to the South -- for which the "war on drugs" provides a convenient smokescreen. Hypocrisy, anyone?

The author, Pastor of Northside Presbyterian Church in Ann Arbor, was recently indicted with 42 others for trespassing onto Ft. Benning during a solemn nonviolent civil disobedience action last November. The "SOA 43" trial date has been set for July 8 at the U.S. District Court in Columbus, GA.

Article will be published in Enlace, the magazin of the Dublin, Ireland based Latin America Solidarity Centre

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