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 "basically cosmetic."

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 behind us.

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 SOA-trained.

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.

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