Still a School of Assassins
from SOA Watch
Update - March 2001
The US Army School of the Americas has been the center of
a storm of controversy for nearly two decades. This training center
for Latin American military has turned out more than 60,000 soldiers.
Its graduates have been linked to nearly every major human rights
violation that has occurred in Latin America since the school's
inception 50 years ago. As the public learned that SOA graduates
were responsible for the assassination of Archbishop Romero, the
Jesuit massacre and countless other atrocities, a tremendous grassroots
movement to close the school developed. In 1999, a budget amendment
cutting funds to the school passed the House by 30 votes. It lost
by a one-vote margin in a House-Senate conference committee. The
Pentagon took this threat very seriously and in 2000 introduced
a "reform" package changing the name of the school to
the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. Critics
were not fooled by this PR campaign and the movement to close
the School of Assassins continues.
Grassroots pressure forced them to change the name but ...
... Here's what SOA supporters have to say:
"Some of your bosses have told us that they can't support
anything with the name 'School of the Americas' on it. Our proposal
addresses this concern. It changes the name." Col. Mark Morgan
told Congressional aides at a Defense Dept. briefing just prior
to the May, 2000 vote.
"The School of the Americas would still be able to continue
its purpose," Stated the late Paul Coverdell, influential
GA Senator, in an April, 2000 interview with the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer.
In the same interview, he called the proposed changes to the SOA
In a December, 2000 interview with El Tiempo, Colombian Defense
Minister Luis Fernando Ramirez and Commander of the Armed Forces
Gen. Fernando Tapias stated that Congress and the U.S. Government
had assured them that the School of the Americas will continue
to function and that the Colombian military can still train there.
... Past "reforms" have involved only a re-packaging
of the same courses:
Previously, the Pentagon responded to grassroots pressure
to close the school with a "reform" package that eliminated
some of the most notorious courses, such as Psychological Operations,
and added new offerings with friendly-sounding names like Peace
Operations. This was not true reform, but simply a smokescreen
designed to deflect attention from human rights violations associated
with the school. An examination of the course descriptions revealed
that little, if anything had changed. "Peace Operations"
included military intelligence, psychological operations and methods
of controlling the civilian population, such as establishing roadblocks
and checkpoints. The website of the re-named school offers very
little information about the content of the course offerings.
Why should we believe the reform rhetoric of an institution with
a history of blatant deception?
... Keeping the school open under any name sends a powerful
anti-human rights message:
This school has a legacy of providing training to some of
the most notorious human rights abusers of this hemisphere. SOA
graduates have gone on to become dictators, defense ministers
and heads of secret police agencies where they have crafted genocidal
policies resulting in torture, murder, disappearances and displacement
for hundreds of thousands of people. Defenders of the renamed
SOA would have us believe that the atrocities are all in the past;
but the people of Latin America will continue to suffer the effects
of this training for generations. It is not up to those responsible
for the atrocities to say, "let's put this all behind us."
Keeping this school open without investigating its connections
to past atrocities sends a powerful message to Latin American
militaries that the United States is not concerned with human
rights. This school must close and there must be an investigation
into its role in human rights abuses before the past can be put
Grassroots pressure forced them to change the name but . .
... The atrocities are not all in the past:
The names of SOA graduates continue to turn up wherever there
are human rights violations in Latin America.
In Guatemala, SOA graduate Lima Estrada is currently imprisoned
awaiting trial for the 1998 murder of Bishop Juan Gerardi. The
year 2000 saw former Guatemalan dictators Efrain Rios Montt and
Fernando Lucas Garcia brought into court on genocide charges.
During their regimes, thousands were killed and hundreds of thousands
forced into refuge or exile. Both men, as well as a number of
their high-ranking cabinet officials also named in the suit, were
When the Bolivian government sold the public water system
of Cochabamba to a private corporation, water prices skyrocketed
and thousands took to the streets in protest. Bolivia's president
and former military dictator, SOA Graduate Hugo Banzer, declared
a state of siege and ordered the troops into the streets. A 17
year-old boy was shot and killed by a Bolivian army officer.
... Look at what's happening in Colombia:
Colombia, with over 10,000 troops trained at the SOA, is the
school's largest customer. Not surprisingly, Colombia currently
has the worst human rights record in all of Latin America. In
February of this year, SOA graduate Hernan Orozco was sent to
prison by a military tribunal for complicity in the Mapiripan
torture and massacre of 30 peasants by a paramilitary group.
General Mario Montoya Uribe, an SOA graduate with a history
of ties to paramilitary violence, commands the Joint Task Force
South, which includes the 24th Brigade. The 24th brigade is ineligible
for U.S. military aid due to its complicity in paramilitary violence.
A leading Colombian newspaper identifies Gen. Montoya as "the
military official responsible for Plan Colombia."
U.S Military aid under Plan Colombia has been sold to the
U.S. public as part of the war on drugs. In actuality, the forces
under Montoya's command are engaged in a counter-insurgency war
against leftist guerrillas. The aid is directed to troops taking
offensive action against guerrillas in areas targeted for coca
fumigation. Evidence shows that these offensives often happen
in conjunction with paramilitary attacks. Robert Zoellick, a top
foreign policy advisor to President Bush, was recently quoted
as saying, "We cannot continue to make a false distinction
between counter-insurgency and counter-narcotics."
A large portion of the U.S military aid to Colombia will pay
for Blackhawk helicopters to be used in the counter-narcotics/counter-insurgency
war described above. Flight training for these helicopters takes
place at the Helicopter School Battalion (HSB) at Ft. Rucker,
Alabama. The HSB has been a part of the School of the Americas
since it opened in 1991. Until recently, it was part of WHISC
also. The web site of WHISC reported, as part of its course listings,
"Helicopter School Battalion remains unchanged." As
public attention to the controversial Colombia aid package increased,
the HSB disappeared from the course catalog. The public affairs
officer had no explanation for the change.
This is consistent with the history of the School of Assassins.
The rhetoric changes, classes are shifted and re-packaged; but
the same training continues and the poor continue to suffer.
... There is still no adequate tracking of graduates:
The Department of Defense (DOD) claims that only a small percentage
of the school's 60,000 graduates have been implicated in human
rights abuses. In reality, they have no documentation for making
this assertion. DOD reports state "The Department of State
and Department of Defense have no formal program to monitor School
of the Americas graduates for human rights abuse or other crimes
. . ." and ". . . there is no formal tracking of School
of the Americas graduates." SOA Watch's painstakingly researched
list of human rights violators associated with the school is not
comprehensive, just a chilling sample. Only those soldiers who
attended the school-under the TMET program (about l/3) are subject
to any scrutiny of their human rights records and this information
is not made public. The truth is that the DOD has no idea how
many of the SOA's graduates have returned to their countries to
commit crimes. Nothing in this "reform" package changed
this. The DOD still takes no responsibility for monitoring the
human rights impact of training rat the School of Assassins.
of the Americas Watch