Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Public needs to know about School of the Americas

Article published Apr 11, 2007

Jack Gilroy / Guest Column

Some parents, not wanting to reveal certain information, tell their children, “You're on a need-to-know basis, and you don't need to know this.”

That may be the right of a parent, but as citizens, we need to know more about what our elected government officials are doing. The revelations of Americans torturing other people at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo were a shocker to most of our citizens. But it was no surprise to those of us who have known for many years that the U.S. Army taught torture and assassination to Latino students at the U.S. Army School of the Americas at Ft. Benning, Ga.

A member of my immediate family graduated from the Senior War College in Washington, D.C. When I told him 10 years ago that the SOA was a school of assassins, he was outraged at me. He insisted the United States would never stoop to teach torture or assassination. Just weeks later, he sent me clippings from The Washington Post with an apology. The article (from September 1996) told how Spanish language manuals were used at the SOA to teach Latino soldiers methods of psychological torture, physical torture and assassination.

A group of citizens calling themselves School of Americas Watch ( investigated the SOA through the Freedom of Information Act. The evidence of torture and assassination was striking. When our legislative work in Congress came close to closing the SOA in 2000, the Pentagon decided to hand over the school to the Department of Defense. The SOA was closed on Dec. 17, 2000 and reopened one month later with a new name, the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC).

“New Name, Same Shame” was our response to the claims of the closure of the SOA. Sen. Paul Coverdale, the Republican senator from Georgia when the school took on the new name, said, “Simply cosmetic.” Democratic Rep. Joe Moakley of Massachusetts, who had headed a movement to close the SOA, said the name change “was like pouring perfume on a toxic dump.”

United States citizens need to know WHINSEC is a toxic place where Latino soldiers are dumped to learn diplomacy through combat arms. SOA Watch has been working with Congress for years to close the SOA and its clone, WHINSEC. Last year, we lost in Congress by just 15 votes. In the November election, 35 who voted against us lost their congressional seats. This year, we may win our case. In our area, Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-22nd District, has consistently voted to close the school. Former representative Sherwood Boehlert always voted to close the school, and we need to bring on his successor, Rep. Michael Arcuri, D-24th District. Rep. Jim Walsh, R-25th District, has always voted with us. Rep. Paul Kanjorski, D-11th District, voted last year to close the school. SOA Watch Scranton is urging Rep. Christopher Carney, D-10th District, to sign on to HR 1707, the new bill just introduced in Congress.

Citizens need to know their tax dollars are being used for a school that has produced thugs, thieves and killers. They need to know that teaching democracy out of a barrel of a gun does not work. The people of Latin America need jobs, not guns. If young Latinos are taken to this country for education, teach them human rights and economic justice.

Binghamton SOA Watch will have an uplifting, hopeful and fun-filled concert of awareness with folk singers Charlie King and Colleen Kattau at 8 p.m. April 14 at First Congregational Church, Front and Main streets in Binghamton.

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