General Wesley Clark on Defensive on School of the Americas (SOA/WHISC), Once Under His Command Print
From June 1996 to July 1997, General Clark served as Commander of the US Southern Command, where he was responsible for US military activities concerning Latin America, including the School of the Americas (SOA), now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHISC). On Sept. 20, 1996, Pentagon officials admitted that SOA manuals used from 1982 to 1991 advocated the use of torture, extortion, and extrajudical executions against dissidents in Latin America. The New York Times wrote "an institution so clearly out of tune with American values should be shut down without further delay."

On December 16, 1996, a few months after the Pentagon admission of the torture manuals, Clark visited the SOA, not to demand accountability but to give a commencement speech at an SOA graduation ceremony. Six years later and still, no one has been held accountable for the use of the torture manuals at the SOA. The SOA trained death squad leaders, assassins and military dictators. Its graduates were found responsible for some of the worst human rights atrocities in Latin America, including the El Mozote massacre of more than 900 civilians in El Salvador in 1980, the murder of Guatemalan Bishop Juan Gerardi in 1998 and of Colombian Archbishop Isa?as Duarte in 2002.

At almost every campaign stop, Gen. Clark is facing critical questions concerning his connection to the SOA and his continued unpopular support of the school. Asked about his continued support of the SOA during an event in Manchester, NH, on Dec. 19, 2003, Clark responded, " I?m not going to have been in charge of a school that I can?t be proud of." In reaction to a question asked in Concord, NH, about the torture manuals Clark stated: "We're teaching police procedures and human rights . . . [We've] never taught torture." Despite cosmetic changes, the SOA remains a combat training school that teaches Latin American soldiers commando tactics, psychological operations, sniper and other military skills. Its graduates continue to be linked to massacres and other crimes. A few examples:

? In April 2002, the Venezuelan Army Commander-in-Chief Efrain Vasquez and General Ramirez Poveda -- both graduates of the SOA -- were key players in an attempted coup against the democratically elected Venezuelan government. In total, the school has produced at least eleven military dictators.

? In October 2003 it became public through documents released by the Mexican Secretary of Defense that SOA-trained ex-soldiers are now working as highly trained hired assassins for the Gulf Drug Cartel. SOA graduates comprise over a third of 31 renegade soldiers who were previously part of an elite counter-drug division of the Mexican Army.

? In December 2003, the Colombian prosecutor general's office ordered the dismissal of SOA graduate Oscar Eduardo Saavedra Calixto for failing to prevent a 2001 massacre of 27 civilians in the village of Chengue. human rights Reports consistently cite SOA-trained Colombian officers for collaboration with paramilitaries.

In 2001 the SOA changed its name at a time when SOA opponents were poised to win a congressional vote that would have closed the school. The vote lost by 204-214 and even though the school renamed, Amnesty International joins other human rights groups in calling for its closure. A broad movement of human rights groups, churches and temples, students, veterans and others maintain that the underlying purpose of the school remains the same: to control the economic and political systems of Latin America by aiding and influencing Latin American militaries. New legislation to close the school was introduced by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass) and has been co-sponsored by 102 Members of Congress. Opponents of the SOA/WHISC are preparing for a large-scale Lobby Day in DC on March 30th. 28 people are scheduled for trial on Jan. 26, facing 6 months for civil disobedience when 10,000 people demonstrated at Ft. Benning, home of the SOA.