in the US School of the Americas (SOA)

by Lisa Haugaard

The Pentagon revealed what activists opposed to the school have been alleging for years-that foreign military officers were taught to torture and murder to achieve their political objectives," says Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy Il (D-MA), who has waged a three-year campaign to close the U.S. Army School of the Americas (SOA). Hoping to elude media attention, the Pentagon waited until late
on a Friday to release training manuals used at the school and distributed throughout Latin America that instructed officers on the use of torture, murder and blackmail in the fight against left-wing opponents.

The most egregious passages in the declassified manuals advocated such tactics as executions of guerrillas, extortion, physical abuse and paying bounties for enemy dead. One of the manuals offers the following techniques to recruit a guerrilla as an intelligence source: blackmail, false arrest, Imprlsonment of the potential recruit's parents and execution of all other members of his guerrilla cell. Another manual contains detailed instructions for making Molotov cocktails.

The Pentagon released the manuals after a sustained public pressure campaign focused on the role of the CIA in Guatemala, which was the subject of a June report by the President's Intelligence Oversight Board. Since the board's report mentioned the manuals, the Pentagon received requests to declassify them in their entirety.

The seven Spanish-language training manuals, totaling 1,100 pages, were prepared by the U.S. military and used between 1987 and 1991 for intelligence training courses in Latin America and at the School of the Americas. These manuals, with titles such as "Counterintelligence" and "Revolutionary War and Communist Ideology," were based on lesson plans used by SOA instructors since 1982. These lesson plans, in turn, were based in part on older material dating back to the '60s from "Project X," the U.S. Army's Foreign Intelligence Assistance Program. The U.S. government estimates that as many as a thousand copies of these manuals may have been distributed at the SOA and throughout Latin America.

In late 1991, after the Bush administration "discovered" the use of these manuals, the office of the assistant to the secretary of defense for intelligence oversight launched an investigation. The Pentagon provided the resulting report to congressional intelligence committees in 1992, but it remained sealed from the public until now. The investigation concluded that the manuals' authors and SOA instructors "erroneously assumed that the manuals, as well as the lesson plans, represented approved doctrine." When interviewed by the investigators, the manuals' authors stated that they believed intelligence oversight regulations applied only to U.S. personnel and not to the training of foreign personnel-in other words, that U.S. instructors could teach abusive techniques to foreign militaries that they could not legally perform themselves.

The response to this investigation was limited to damage control. The Bush administration ordered the retrieval and destruction of the manuals, and the U.S. Army Southern Command advised Latin American governments that the handbooks did not represent official U.S. policy. However, the whole episode was treated as an isolated incident. The individuals responsible for writing and teaching the lesson plans and manuals were not disciplined. SOA and other U.S. military instructors were not retrained. And military training programs were not rethought.

Along with the declassified manuals, the Pentagon released two dozen excerpts from the manuals that contain "objectionable and questionable material." Yet a preliminary examination of the manuals by Kennedy" office revealed other citations that describe techniques violating human rights. The "Interrogation" manual taught military officers to gag, bind and blindfold suspects, while the "Terrorism and Urban Guerilla" guide explains how to build mail bombs.

Analysts at the National Security Archive, a Washington-based research organization, point to sections of at least two of the manuals that equate democratic, non-violent and even strictly electoral campaigning with terrorist activity. "It is important to note that many terrorists are very well trained in subversion of the democratic process and use the system to advance their causes," one manual states. "This manipulation ends with the destruction of the democratic system. Discontent that can become political violence can have as its cause political, social, and economic activities of terrorists operating within the democratic system." Another manual warns that rebels are active in political organizations, legislative initiatives and political education, and that they can "resort to subverting the government by electoral means." This sort of analysis encourages military officers to perceive democratic challenges to a government as threatening and worthy of a military response.

One manual describes '60s activist Tom Hayden, currently a California state senator, as "one of the masters of terrorist planning." It is precisely this identification of activists for social change as terrorists that led death squads in Latin America to kill thousands of religious leaders, students.
union members and human rights activists.

These manuals provide a paper trail to the counterinsurgency techniques taught at the School of the Americas. Since its inception in 1946 in Panama, the school has trained 57,000 Latin American officers and soldiers. (In 1984, under the terms of the Panama Canal treaty, the Pentagon moved the school to Fort Benning, Ga.) While the United States provides military training to soldiers from many other countries, only Latin Americans have a special school where they are trained in their own language. Despite its stated mission to promote human rights, the school has long had an unsavory reputation in Latin America, where it has been dubbed the "school of the assassins" and the "coup d'etat school" for the records of some of its notorious graduates. In the United States, Maryknoll priest Roy Bourgeois initiated a campaign in 1990 to close the school, opening an "SOA Watch" office right outside Fort Benning's gate. The effort to shut the school gathered steam following revelations that year that more than two-thirds of the Salvadoran officers cited for atrocities in the U.N. Truth Commission report were SOA graduates.

The school's opponents are not naive. They know that closing the school would not end U.S. training of Latin American militaries and intelligence services, since these activities can and do take place in other settings. Nonetheless, they believe that it would be an important symbolic victory.

In public relations efforts to counter the campaign, SOA officials emphasize the school's role in teaching human rights, democracy and civil-military relations. They point to recent changes in the curriculum that, they say, highlight these subjects. However, the main thrust of the school continues to be combat and intelligence training. The 1996 course catalogue lists courses in battle staff operations, commando operations, intelligence, border operations, artillery, psychological operations and helicopter operation and repair. Counterinsurgency techniques are listed as topics in several courses. Only one of the 32 courses taught at the school focuses on democracy. No separate course on human rights is offered, although a four-hour "mandatory human rights awareness training" session is included in several courses.

Even if human rights violations were not part of the curriculum, critics question the rationale for teaching combat and intelligence skills to Latin American militaries. During the Cold War, they point out, militaries used these skills to thwart democratic opponents of repressive regimes. Today, such skills are obsolete and in fact hinder the concerted struggle by Latin American citizens to assert civilian control over still powerful armies.

The revelations about the manuals give new impetus to efforts to close the school. Kennedy has twice tried to pass legislation that would have closed the school. Both attempts ended in defeat (with votes of 256-174 in October 1993 and 217-157 in May 1994). Supporters of the school maintain that the school's notorious graduates are "just a few bad apples," that it is premature "to throw the baby out with the bath water," and that the SOA exercises a positive influence upon Latin American militaries.

Last year, Kennedy tried a new approach. Seeking to gain the support of those in Congress who believe the United States can exercise a positive influence on Latin American military officers, Kennedy introduced legislation in November that would close the school but open a new U.S. Academy for Democracv and Civil-Militarv Relations. This school, to be run by the U.S. military with civilian oversight, would offer training solely in democracy, human rights, resource management and civil-military relations. The bill did not receive sufficient co-sponsors to be brought to the floor. In any case, religious and human rights activists who oppose the school were skeptical of this new strategy, doubting that the U.S. military could be trusted to teach democracy and human rights. The recent revelations about the manuals erode that trust even further.

The same month that Kennedy proposed the new academy, police arrested protesters at Fort Benning for trespassing as they re-enacted the 1989 massacre of six Jesuits in El Sal vador. This April, 13 were sentenced to jail terms. Ten received two-month jail sentences. Father Bourgeois, who was sentenced to six months, and Vietnam vet Louis De Benedette and Jesuit priest Bill Bichsel, who each received four-month terms, are still behind bars, completing their jail time.

The school's opponents are planning another November vigil at Fort Benning this year. "The uncovering of the torture training manuals leaves no doubt that the instruction was an intentional and methodical part of the curriculum at the School of the Americas," says Carol Richardson, who is running the SOA Watch office while Father Bourgeois is in jail. "This should be the final nail in the coffin to bury the School of the Americas along with its despicable history and practice. Policy-makers should move quickly and decisively to cut SOA funding. Not one more dime of U.S. taxpayer money should go to support the training of terrorists, assassins and torturers."

Lisa Haugaard is legislative coordinator for the Latin America Working Group,
a coalition of non-governmental organizations based in Washington, D.C. .
This article was published in IN THESE TIMES magazine, October 14, 1996.
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