Zero-Tolerance for Torture? Thousands to Rally for Human Rights Print
Columbus, GA ? The Bush Administration?s opposition to banning torture techniques, pictures of abuse at the hands U.S. personnel, and reports about secret CIA detention facilities are catalyzing a grassroots movement for human rights. This weekend thousands of people from across the country are gathering at the gates of Ft. Benning, Georgia to demand a dramatic shift in U.S. foreign policy.

The Bush Administration and U.S. foreign policy have come under heavy scrutiny in recent months, both nationally and internationally. Earlier this month Bush?s visit to Argentina to attend the Summit of the Americas was met with massive protests, which focused largely on U.S. aggression in the so-called ?War on Terror.? ?This Administration is publicly denying the use of torture by U.S. agencies while simultaneously pressing to allow it,? said Patricia Isasa, an Argentine human rights activist and torture survivor. ?The current discourse on torture is seen by many Latin Americans in the context of a legacy of U.S. disregard for human rights.? Isasa is attending this weekend?s protest, which will focus largely on U.S. foreign policy toward Latin America, calling for the closure of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, formerly known as the School of the Americas (SOA/ WHINSEC).

The SOA/ WHINSEC, a combat training facility for Latin American security personnel located at Fort Benning, Georgia, made headlines in 1996 when the Pentagon released training manuals used at the school that advocated torture, extortion and execution. Despite this shocking admission and hundreds of documented human rights abuses connected to soldiers trained at the school, no independent investigation into the training facility has ever taken place.

?We have a President who is talking out of both sides of his mouth about torture and violations of the most basic principles of international law,? said Father Roy Bourgeois, founder of SOA Watch. ?We are demanding accountability, which means a discontinuation from the policies and politics of torture, as well as independent criminal investigations of those responsible for these egregious acts and policies.?

Earlier this year Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) introduced HR 1217, a bill to suspend operations at WHINSEC and to investigate the development and use of the ?torture manuals.? The bill currently has over 122 bipartisan co-sponsors. Organizations such as Amnesty International and Fellowship of Reconciliation are calling on Congress to open independent investigations into charges of torture in the ?War on Terror,? including in Iraq, Guantanamo Bay, and the CIA?s secret detention centers. ?We are demanding that every politician take a clear and unequivocal stance,? said Bourgeois. ?There must be zero-tolerance for torture.?

The annual Vigil to close the SOA/ WHINSEC has grown from a dozen people in November of 1990 to more than 16,000 last year. This year?s gathering will culminate on Sunday, November 20 with a symbolic funeral procession to the gates of Ft. Benning. Many will negotiate a barbed-wire fence to enter the military base in an act of nonviolent civil disobedience.