One Thousand Expected for Protest of the US Army School of the Americas Print
"Close the School of the Americas!" say veterans, religious leaders, peace groups and other concerned citizens from around the nation. On April 19, over 200 began a ten day vigil and lobby action calling for Congress to close the US Army combat school for Latin American soldiers. Organizers expect the group to total 1,000 by April 29, the vigil's end. "The School of the Americas has left a trail of blood and suffering in every Latin American country where its graduates have returned," says Roy Bourgeois, Catholic missionary and leading critic of the School. "It shames our country and the US military," maintains Bourgeois, a Vietnam veteran.

The US Army School of the Americas (SOA), has been nicknamed the "School of Assassins" by its opponents because its graduates repeatedly have been linked with assassinations and other human rights abuses in Latin America. Graduates of the Ft. Benning school made up over two thirds of the Salvadoran officers cited by the 1993 United Nations Truth Commission for atrocities during El Salvador's civil war. The SOA's best known graduate, former Panamanian President, Manual Noriega, is now serving 40 years in a US federal prison for drug trafficking.

SOA defenders maintain that the Army School's training strengthens understanding of democratic values and respect for civil control of the military. Critics say otherwise. "The School of the Americas has trained leaders in tactics to violate human rights and has done so knowingly and deliberately," writes Anne Munley, president of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) in a letter urging the President, Congress and the Pentagon to close the School of the Americas. LCWR represents 78,000 Catholic nuns across the country.

Critics of the School, including those gathered for the vigil on the Capitol steps, have long maintained that the SOA has been actively teaching Latin American soldiers to kill and oppress their own people. In September 1996, the Pentagon released seven-Spanish language training manuals used at the SOA until 1991. These materials, used to train Latin American soldiers, advocated interrogation techniques like torture, execution, blackmail, truth serum and arresting relatives of those being questioned.

Leading congressional opponent of the SOA, Joseph P. Kennedy (D-MA), has introduced legislation to close the. US Army School. Over the ten day vigil, demonstrators will come from across the country representing national groups like the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the US Jesuit Conference, Veterans for Peace, Witness for Peace, and Pax Christi. Lead organizer, Bourgeois, predicts, "We will visit every Representative and Senator with our message, 'Close the School of Death.'"