Rep. McGovern's Letter to SOA Watch Supporters Print
This letter was written for the 2004 Vigil and Non-Violent Direct Action at the gates of Ft. Benning, home of the SOA/WHINSEC.

We thank Rep. Jim McGovern for his leadership in the House of Representatives.

November 19, 2004

To the Organizers and Participants
The 2004 Nonviolent Vigil and Direct Action
On the Western Hemisphere Institute on Security Cooperation
Formerly known as the U.S. Army School of the Americas

Dear Friends,

I want to express my strongest support and solidarity to the organizers and participants of the 2004 non-violent vigil and direct action gathering to protest the Western Hemisphere Institute on Security Cooperation, formerly known as the U.S. Army School of the Americas.

I first became involved with El Salvador in 1983, when I was working for Congressman Joe Moakley of Boston. Over the years, like so many other Americans, I became deeply moved by the struggle of the Salvadoran people for peace and justice, and I was privileged to know and become friends with the Jesuit priests who were so brutally murdered on November 16, 1989. I will never forget them, and I believe your participation in this action and your commitment to social justice honors their memory in a particularly meaningful way.

The war in El Salvador turned a spotlight on U.S. military training in Latin America, and more specifically, on the graduates of the U.S. Army School of the Americas. It was the U.S.-created and trained Atlacatl Battalion that entered the grounds of the University of Central America in San Salvador that fateful night fifteen years ago – and 19 of the 26 Salvadoran soldiers directly involved in killing the six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her teenage daughter were graduates of the School of the Americas. These revelations launched a nation-wide movement, strongly rooted in the faith community, and embraced by human rights, peace, labor, veterans and student organizations and networks, to research the curriculum and the graduates of the School of the Americas and, ultimately, to shut it down.

This work has had a significant impact – not for nothing did the Army change the name of the School and parts of its curriculum and undertake a public relations campaign aimed at enhancing the image of the School. But even more importantly, it has made us all look more closely at the military training we provide in Latin America, and around the world, and at the individual foreign military officers who are the beneficiaries of our largesse. What do these officers do when they return to their home nations? Do they change the institutional character of their national armed forces? Are they leaders in efforts to promote democracy and respect for human rights? Do they recognize and promote the legitimacy of civil society and submit to elected civilian authority? Do they work to strengthen the rule of law and bring about the end of impunity, including for members and high officers of the military?

Sadly, the answer to this question most often is “no.” Too frequently, the answer is “no – just the opposite.”

Regardless of what you believe about the war in Iraq and its aftermath – and I speak as someone who voted against the authorization of the use of force in Iraq – I hope you will recognize that our uniformed men and women carry out their duty with courage and honor. Like the many American veterans who are involved in the movement to shut down the School of the Americas, I believe that its continuing operation stains the honor of our own uniformed men and women, and that they deserve better.

In the 108th Congress, which is coming to an end, through your coordinated efforts, 129 of my colleagues in the U.S. House of Representatives joined me as cosponsors to H.R. 1258, the Latin America Military Training Review Act of 2003. This bipartisan legislation to suspend the operations of the Western Hemisphere Institute on Security Cooperation is an issue that clearly is not going away. I promise you that I will re-introduce similar legislation in the 109th Congress next year. By now we all understand that the 109th Congress will be a very difficult environment in which to pursue this work, and as always, I am counting on your strong and coordinated efforts to help me create a climate where we can not only garner a greater number of cosponsors on this bill, but bring this issue up for debate and a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Your presence here this week and your commitment to justice issues are testimony to the strength and resonance of the lives and contributions of the Jesuit martyrs in our own lives, education and actions. May you carry on their mission to create a more just and equitable world, and a more just and equitable partnership between our own country and our Latin American neighbors.


James P. McGovern
Member of Congress