International Catholic Peace Movement Calls for the Closing of the SOA Print
New York ? Even as new allegations of torture by U.S. troops in Iraq come to light, an international council of Catholic bishops, priests, women religious and lay people resolved to work for the closing of a U.S.-sponsored school which formerly employed torture training manuals as part of its curriculum. One-hundred and sixty-five representatives from over 50 countries adopted the resolution calling for the closure of the School of the Americas (SOA)/Western Hemispheric Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), a training school at the U.S. Army?s Fort Benning in Columbus, Ga.

The school has trained more than 64,000 Latin American soldiers in counterinsurgency techniques, sniper training, psychological warfare, military intelligence and interrogation. Many of the countries represented at the Pax Christi International council meeting?including Guatemala, El Salvador, and Bolivia?experienced first-hand the tools of repression taught at the SOA/WHINSEC and recounted for the international delegates the suffering and violence perpetrated by graduates of the school.

?It was this school that taught torture and killing to the Salvadoran troops during the conflict in our country in the 1980s and early 90s,? said Maria Julia Hernandez, the director of Tutela Legal, the human rights office in the Archdiocese of San Salvador. ?Many peasants, pastoral workers, innocent people and prisoners were exterminated by military personnel trained at this school to violate human dignity.?
The resolution was introduced on Friday, May 21 at the Pax Christi International council meetings taking place at Seton Hall University in New Jersey. Pax Christi USA, which has long been involved in the effort to close the SOA/WHINSEC, sponsored the resolution, with Pax Christi Philippines seconding it.

The resolution acknowledges the April decision by the government of Venezuela to no longer send soldiers to the SOA/WHINSEC and also recognizes the role the school continues to play in training ?human rights abusers and soldiers involved in corruption such as Francisco Del Cid Diaz of El Salvador who received SOA/WHINSEC training in 2003 although he had been previously found responsible for ordering and participating in the beating, abusing and shooting at point blank range of 16 indigenous people in Las Hojas, El Salvador.?

In addition to calling for the closing of the SOA/WHINSEC, the resolution also calls upon Pax Christi member organizations to contact their governments and express their concern over their own countries? participation in U.S. military training programs.

?The recent revelations of torture in Iraq surprise no one who has been involved in the effort to close the SOA/WHINSEC,? said Eric LeCompte, National Council Chair of Pax Christi USA and coordinator of organizing for the School of the Americas Watch group. ?We have shown that the content of the torture manuals previously used at the SOA share striking similarities with the behavior we have witnessed at Abu Ghraib prison. This school and the United States? sanctioning of torture as military policy must stop now.?

Pax Christi USA is the national Catholic peace movement, reaching more than half a million Catholics in the United States. Our membership includes 130 U.S. bishops, 550 religious communities, 450 parish sponsors and 275 local groups. Pax Christi USA is a section of Pax Christi International, the international Catholic peace movement with consultative status at the United Nations.