Will the American President shut down the School of Torture?

26 Nov

Though the School of Americas (SOA) has been renamed as The Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) and claimed that it has included a human rights programs in its curriculum, SOA Watch, a movement, which is actively campaigning to close down the school, has rebutted their change as cosmetic.

Since 1990, SOA Watch has been organising protests every late November. This year, Ohio Democratic congressman and presidential candidate, Dennis Kucinich joined in the demonstration and vowed to close the school immediately if elected. The other presidential candidate to endorse the closure is Senator Mike Gravel of Alaska.

The School of Americas, which was established in 1946 and renamed in 2001, remains a controversial institution for having taught and graduated some of the most notorious Latin American dictators. They include Roberto Viola and Leopoldo Galtieri of Argentina; Panama’s Manuel Noriega and Omar Torrijos, Peru’s Juan Velasco Alvarado and Ecuador’s Guillermo Rodriguez. Pentagon documents released in 1996 also revealed that the school taught students executions, torture, blackmail and other forms of coercion techniques. A U.N. Truth Commission report found that over two-thirds of the Salvadoran officers it cites for abuses are SOA graduates and that 40% percent of the Cabinet members under three sanguinary Guatemalan dictatorships were SOA graduates.

Supporters of the school claim that the number of “evil-doers” who graduated from the institution is small in number compared to the overall total throughout the years. They also claim that they do not teach torture; that the curriculum includes a human rights component; and that the school cannot be held accountable for the actions of some of its graduates.

The new school, despite having a new name and revamped program continues to be plagued by scandals of having produced military criminals. According to SOA Watch, seven of the thirteen military officials who attended the school, were caught in August this year for their implications in a drug cartel protection ring in Columbia. Columbian Army Chief General, Mario Montoya, who had taught at the school was alleged in March this year for having links with right-wing militias that Washington considers terrorist organizations. Gonzalo Guevara Cerritos, a former army officer from El Salvador, who was trained in the School of Americas, was convicted in October 2006 for taking part in the 1989 massacre of six Jesuit priests and two other people during that country’s civil war.

Some Latin American countries have boycotted the school. In 2004, Venezuela decided against sending their soldiers. By 2006, Argentina and Uruguay also made the same decision. They were joined by the president of Costa Rica, Oscar Arias, this year who stopped sending their police to the school for training.

The more disturbing allegations are that the school is a testing ground for torture techniques practiced in Abu Ghraib. For example, the black hood used to cover the faces of naked prisoners was practiced in Guatemalan and Salvadoran torture chambers. During the General Augusto Pinochet regime, prisoners were bound to a metal bed frame, similar to the way on how detainees are stripped naked and hooded while being bound in a crucifix position in Abu Ghraib.

While the Democratic presidential candidates, save Kucinich and Mike Gravel, have promised to close down the school, others have chosen to either adopt a “wait and see attitude” or applaud its inclusion of “human rights component”. The school, which has been used as a training ground for torture, is an institute that promotes the “war on terror”. Along with issues such as Guantanamo Bay or Iraq War, the new president should also be questioned, “Will you shut down the School of Americas if elected?”

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References and further reading materials:

1. Kucinich protests Army training school, Associated Press, Harry R. Weber, November 18, 2007

2. SOA Protest Draws Scant Support From Candidates, Nation, Patrick Mulvaney, October 30, 2007

3. SOA Watch

4. Center for International Policy on Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (Successor to School of the Americas) Fort Benning, Georgia

5. Backyard terrorism, The Guardian, George Monbiot, October 30, 2001

6. Teaching Torture, LA Weekly, Doug Ireland, July 22, 2004
7. U.S. Instructed Latins on Executions, Torture, Washington Post, Dana Priest, September 21st 1996

8. School Of The Americas, PBS Online Focus, September 21, 1999

9. Hidden In Plain Sight, CommonDreams.org, by Leah C. Wells, November 18, 2003

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