Court Statement by Louis Wolf
Testimony before Judge E. Mallon Faircloth,
Federal Court, Columbus, Georgia, January 26, 2009,
by Louis Wolf
Your Honor, I do not stand here today just in moral opposition to curricula that SOA created across the map of torture. It is because torture is a logical and necessary component in the very wide gamut of special operations, commando tactics, sophisticated counterinsurgency techniques, covert procedures, military intelligence, covert intelligence activities,psychological warfare, psychological operations or “PSYOPS”, etc., all honed by the British in Malaya, and by the U.S. in the Philippines, Vietnam and Laos, and more recently in Iraq and Afghanistan. Likewise, the 1963 CIA ‘KUBARK’ interrogation and torture documents and the early 1980s torture manuals authored by the U.S. Army both documented what has been central to the SOA/WHINSEC curricula taught to thousands of officers from eighteen Latin American countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela. These materials specifically instructed their students on how to motivate civilian targets by fear, by extortions, by kidnappings, by use of truth serum, by beatings, by rapes, by false imprisonments, by torture of children in front of their parents and vice versa, by beheadings, by live burials, by public executions, and by massacres.
At this writing, five countries have decided to completely withdraw their personnel from future training at WHINSEC: Costa Rica, Argentina, Uruguay, Venezuela, and Bolivia. They have stated “. . . we have absolutely no need for training at this kind of school.” A former Uruguayan general stated he felt “used” by the Pentagon to protect U.S. interests, to the point of leading many of his fellow officers to repress, torture and kill his own people. Other nations which have for years sent their military officers to SOA/WHINSEC for training are actively considering their immediate options as well. Last year, the vote in Congress to cut off funding lost by just six votes, so we may not need to return to Columbus to protest again next year.
It is instructive to read about the WHINSEC seal on WHINSEC’s web site that it features “the colors blue and white and the Maltese cross, the insignia of Christopher Columbus during his explorations of the Caribbean Sea, which represents the heritage of security cooperation of the Western Hemisphere.” After a slave raid in 1495, Columbus later wrote: “Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold.” Columbus was true to his word affirming it further, saying: “We shall take you and your wives, and your children, and shall make slaves of them, and we shall take away your goods, and shall do you all the mischief and damage that we can, and we protest that the deaths and losses which shall accrue from this are your fault.” Historians estimate that during four years, four million native lives were taken in what is now San Salvador. In their effort to whitewash SOA’s role in facilitating the tortures and massacres in Latin America, did Pentagon policymakers choose Christopher Columbus to be a role model for the WHINSEC seal as a declaration that future training should go down a similar path as Christopher Columbus?
As dawn broke on November 23 last year, thousands of people young and old, black, brown, yellow and white, who had come to Fort Benning from across the United States to protest the continued existence of the institution began to gather for the sixteenth year outside the Fort Benning Drive entrance to the base. Some noticed that the very tall and robust flagpole which rises just outside of the newly enlarged perimeter fence, showed a shiny, slippery surface that glistened in the sun. It was apparent that either the U.S. Army or the Columbus police had greased the surface of the flagpole, ostensibly to discourage protesters from shinnying up its heights to enter Fort Benning and register their protest. What traditionally is the patriotic flagpole was this year covered with ignominious grease, thus dishonoring the flag itself.
A visit to the WHINSEC website [www.Benning.army.mil/whinsec] states the following as the seventh of eight objectives of the facility in answer to the question “What is the purpose of WHINSEC?”: “. . . to eradicate extreme poverty, which constitutes an obstacle to the full democratic development of the peoples of the hemisphere.” It certainly is true that grinding poverty is prevalent in many of the 22 countries of Latin America and the Caribbean. However, to suggest that WHINSEC and the military training it conducts day in and day out is a new and viable solution to the profound poverty and social inequality that prevails in these nations is nothing less than breathtakingly shallow Pentagon propaganda. This is also personified by the fact that every occupant of the White House routinely recites the mantra: “The United States is the greatest nation on earth.” This statement is certainly not endearing to the other 192 nations of the world, and is a huge and explicit insult to them and their citizens. This is a new era. The day has finally arrived when America’s arrogant doctrine of exceptionalism, as both preached and practiced by George W. Bush and numerous presidents before him, must cease.
President Obama has stated: “I have said repeatedly that America doesn’t torture. And I’m gonna make sure that we don’t torture. Those are part and parcel of an effort to regain America’s moral stature in the world.” Obama also said: “[w]e’ll reject torture – without exception or equivocation.” In the context of SOA/WHINSEC, even if we accept the new President’s premise that American military and intelligence operators will actually stop the practice of torture, will this also mean that we will no longer “outsource” it – or encourage others to torture their citizens for us? If so, then it must start right here at this very United States military school.
In its 50 years, the SOA (and the WHINSEC in its nine years) has trained more than 64,000 Latin American (and more recently, Caribbean) soldiers in combat skills, sniper training, counter-insurgency techniques, use of advanced combat arms systems, commando tactics, and psychological operations. SOA graduates include some of the region’s most despicable military strongmen and human rights abusers. Roberto D’Aubuisson, head of the ARENA death squad in El Salvador, attended the SOA. Guatemalan Col. Julio Roberto Alpirez, a CIA operative, trained at the SOA most recently in 1990. Shortly after he returned to Guatemala, Alpirez ordered the murder of U.S. citizen Michael DeVine, an American innkeeper who was living in Guatemala, and the 1992 torture of Efrain Bamaca, Guatemalan husband of U.S. lawyer Jennifer Harbury. The DeVine and Bamaca murders and the abduction, rape, and underground torture of U.S. nun Sr. Dianna Ortiz, helped prompt an Intelligence Oversight Board (IOB) investigation.
The CIA’s “Office of Public Safety”
The Office of Public Safety (OPS) was first established by the Central Intelligence Agency in 1957 to do for foreign police personnel what the School of the Americas did for the militaries in the southern hemisphere. Working formally under the cover of the Agency for International Development (AID), OPS trained more than a million Third World police officers, deployed to Vietnam, Laos, Iran, Taiwan, Portugal, Greece, the Philippines, Brazil, and Uruguay, and including some ten thousand officers who were sent to the United States for advanced training. The International Police Academy was first based in Panama, and was then transferred to the United States at a stately three-story brick building known as the “Car Barn” in the wealthy Georgetown section of downtown Washington, D.C. OPS was heavily staffed by CIA personnel in many countries. AID Director John Gilligan during the Carter administration acknowledged that: “The idea was to plant operatives in every kind of activity we had overseas, government, volunteer, religious, every kind.” In addition to specialized equipment provided from CIA headquarters in Virginia, at the time, the CIA Technical Services Division also designed micro-thin electric needles for insertion between the teeth, under the fingers and toenails, or into the genitals of male and female prisoners, were sent in the State Department diplomatic pouch to Uruguay. In Vietnam, six-inch dowels were placed in the ear and driven into the head until death. There was wide-scale rape and gang rape using various foreign objects even including eels, electric shock by wires to the ears, the tongue, the teeth, and the genitals of both men and women – the latter which was nicknamed “Bell Telephone Hour” in the CIA-run interrogation program under its assassination operation known as Operation Phoenix. Prisoners were also dropped live from helicopters into the Pacific Ocean. OPS and Phoenix were staffed by many CIA personnel working under the OPS umbrella. Former CIA Director William Colby testified that 20,000 Vietnamese were ‘neutralized’ under Phoenix; reliable data suggests the real number was twice that.
OPS maintained top-secret offices in Panama and Buenos Aires to design and build specially-designed tools and interrogation devices and then distribute them to both the police and military clients of the SOA and OPS in the southern hemisphere. OPS supplied various police forces with an estimated $150 million worth of weapons and ammunition, patrol vehicles, radios, transparent headgear, gas masks, tear gas, billy clubs, and assorted crowd control materiel. Their curriculum even included a class on assassination weapons. OPS described these sessions chillingly as “a discussion of various weapons which may be used by the assassin.” They also taught how to design, build and employ bombs and incendiary devices at a “bomb school” run by the CIA in Los Fresnos, Texas. Purportedly, this training was to teach police how to deal with bombs which were allegedly constructed and placed by ‘terrorists’. However, there was no discussion about disassembling or destroying bombs, just about making them. Not just police, but in at least one instance, the well-known right-wing Chilean paramilitary organization ‘Patria y Libertad’ [Fatherland and Liberty] received this bomb training. Its Iowa-born resident American member and engineer, Michael Vernon Townley, son of the Ford Motor Company franchise manager in Santiago, Chile, would eventually place a bomb under the car driven by Salvador Allende’s ambassador to Washington, Orlando Letelier, which exploded in Washington, DC’s Embassy Row in September 1976, killing Letelier and his American co-worker, Ronni Moffitt. Townley was soon brought under the Justice Department’s Witness Protection Program with a new face and identity, where he remains to this day.
In Uruguay during the 1960s, former Indiana policeman and then OPS operative in Montevideo, Uruguay, Dan Mitrione would instill fear in prisoners by playing audio tapes in adjacent rooms of women and children screaming and telling them their family members were being tortured. He also built a soundproofed room in the cellar of his home and demonstrated to invited police officers his specialized torture techniques on four beggars brought in from the street. He mercilessly applied various voltages to thirty-five nerve points of their bodies until they all died. His motto was: “The precise pain, in the precise place, in the precise amount, for the desired effect. … You have to act with the efficiency and cleanliness of a surgeon and with the perfection of an artist.”
During congressional hearings in 1974 under the leadership of South Dakota Senator James Abourezk, OPS’s CIA connection became public, and evidence emerged that OPS was training foreign police in torture. With the subsequent heavy negative public response to these revelations, the Congress voted to abolish OPS, and to discontinue all U.S. training of foreign police. However under the initiative of the Reagan administration, within months, the CIA personnel involved ‘crossed the street’ to become supposed Drug Enforcement Agency employees, and the police training resumed with a supposed anti-drug focus.
Then in 1986, the International Criminal Investigative training Assistance Program (ICITAP) was created by Congress within the Department of Justice. ICITAP programs are “designed in partnership with the host countries, and program implementation methods include on-the-ground . . . and mentoring provided by embedded long-term advisors” and has “evolved into a full-service criminal justice development agency,” according to its web site. Since then, it has conducted a multi-faceted menu of “law enforcement” training in 45 countries across the globe.
One of the more curious of these is presently in Colombia, where ICITAP and the Pentagon have jointly set up “a forensic anthropology training and capacity-building program” where it has created “dig schools” to use DNA evidence to “identify victims in mass graves; and identify, recover, and process evidence required to prosecute paramilitary group members responsible for the mass murders.” This means that in very real terms, the United States is digging up the tortured and brutalized remains of innocent Colombians who perished at the hands of death squads which are in most cases publicly known to be receiving U.S. military and intelligence support under the $7.5 billion dollar “Plan Colombia”, 80% of which is earmarked for the military and police. This takes place in the context of Colombia being the fifth largest supplier of oil in the world. With some 300,000 people already dead during the last ten years, 1,300 mass graves discovered since 2006, 3,800 trade unionists assassinated since the mid-1980s, and between two and four million displaced people, it is glaringly odd that Washington suddenly wishes to track who are the torturers and assassins in this ravaged country.
A name change does not change make The infamy which the School of the Americas earned by way of the bloody fruits of its training – in Panama from 1946 through 1984, when the terms of the Panama Canal Treaty were enforced and the installation had to relocate to Columbus, Georgia. Then in the wake of widespread negative publicity growing out of the emergence of the torture manuals, and massive protests and demonstrations outside the base gates, the SOA was “closed” in December 2000 just as thousands of SOA opponents, including outspoken members of Congress, were on the cusp of winning a congressional vote on legislation which would have dismantled SOA.
Suddenly, the Pentagon submitted a Defense Authorization Bill for Fiscal 2001 suggesting a name change and, after the vote lost by ten votes, the facility was then reopened on January 17, 2001 with a new name – “The Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation” [WHINSEC], in the very same building at Fort Benning where SOA was headquartered. Georgia Senator and outspoken SOA supporter, the late Senator Paul Coverdell told the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer that the Pentagon name change proposal was “cosmetic”. Major Thomas Collins, a U.S. Army spokesman, said on December 12, 2000: “The new school is going to continue the same vital functions the School of the Americas did. We see a great need to continue the same military-to-military, country-to-country contact.” The training program costs American taxpayers an estimated $20 million annually.
Since the name change, WHINSEC has avidly sought to burnish the school’s image. They assert applicants undergo a “meticulous screening process” and that “only personnel of unquestionable character” are accepted and are “law-abiding citizens.” A brand new human rights eight-hour per school year course was added to the curriculum, which is not compulsory, and which a small proportion of officer students attend. Aggressive public relations about the school has kicked in aimed at the American public; the U.S. Army’s Strategic Communications Plan encompasses a coordinated monthly “road show” coordinated by the Army PR office, harassment of grassroots activists both at work and at home, and bi-weekly “letters to the editor/op-ed review and submission” campaigns. Furthermore, the FBI has initiated a counterterrorism investigation that is aimed at School of the Americas Watch’s Washington, DC office and its supporters who speak out publicly against torture.
Dark clouds since name change
Nonetheless, there are a number of recent very disturbing cases involving graduates of the institution, which singularly and collectively show that despite the name change, as the old adage tells us: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” In 1983, Salvadoran Colonel Francisco del Cid Diaz (who was then a Second Lieutenant) commanded a unit which forcibly removed 16 residents from the Los Hojas cooperative of the Asociacion Nacional de Indigenas, bound and beat them, shot all 16 at point-blank range and threw their bodies into the Cuyuapa River. This well-known and notorious massacre was even cited in the State Department’s Human Rights Country Report throughout the 1980s, and was also included in the final report of the El Salvador Truth Commission established under the Salvadoran Peace Accords of 1992. He was enrolled again at SOA in 1988 and 1991. In 1992, the Organization of American States Commission on Human Rights stated that there was substantial evidence that Col. del Cid Diaz together with another ranking officer, gave the order to execute. Then once again, he was re-enrolled at WHINSEC in 2003.
In 1997, Bolivian Captain Filmann Urzagaste Rodriguez was among others who were responsible for the kidnapping and torture of Waldo Albarracin, who was then director of the Popular Assembly for Human Rights in Bolivia and is now the country’s Human Rights Defender (Ombudsman). The case was the subject of a well-known petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Yet in 2002, Urzagaste Rodriguez, by this time a Major, took a 49-week course at WHINSEC.
A criminal investigation into the Colombian Army’s Third Brigade has recently prompted the arrest of thirteen high-ranking officers accused of providing security and mobilizing troops for Diego Montoya, the leader of the Norte del Valle Cartel and one of the FBI’s ten most-wanted criminals. If this weren’t bad enough, two former SOA instructors are among these thirteen outlaws. Former commander of Colombia’s Special Forces and Colonel Alvaro Quijano, Major Wilmer Mora Daza who taught “Peacekeeping Operations and Democratic Sustainment” courses in 2003-04 at WHINSEC.
In Haiti, General Eduardo Aldunate Herman, a Chilean 1974 SOA graduate, helped storm the presidential palace in the violent September 1973 coup overthrowing President Salvador Allende. He was a member of the disbanded National Intelligence Central (CNI) under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, a fact which initially was denied by Pinochet’s defense minister Jaime Rabinet and army chief Juan Emilio Cheyre, but was then confirmed by a Chilean government spokesman. Gen. Aldunate was chosen to be the second-in-command of the 36,000-strong United Nations multinational force (MINUSTAH) – part Chilean, part Brazilian, and part Argentinian, and actively supported by the U.S., France, and Canada and Haitian elites. It was deployed to Haiti after the U.S.-supported February 2004 coup that deposed President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. The force first came in under the codename “Operation Iron Fist”, initially using a thin pretext of cleaning the streets. The MINUSTAH force shot 22,000 rounds of ammunition into Haitian crowds during one June 2005 raid, and was responsible for dozens of deaths, wounding many others, and pillaging of at least 238 homes in the Port au Prince neighborhood of Cite de Soleil.
Despite the harsh reality that there were many recorded deaths in Cite de Soleil during the MINUSTAH presence (see video news report at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=1RSZI3zUqkM), the following quote belongs in the record books for most surreal: “UN officials . . . [say] . . . they have not caused a single civilian casualty since the mission began in the spring of 2004.” – Voice of America, September 17, 2007.
Judge Faircloth, in full light of the dark history of the U.S. Army School of the Americas/Western Hemisphere Institution for Security Cooperation which I am placing in the record in this court, I and my five co-defendants come before you today, humbly and proudly. We state our profound insistence that the untold thousands of innocent men, women, and children who have been defiled, tortured, massacred, disappeared, and executed by graduates of this institution must neither be forgotten, nor swept under the rug of history. Further, I sincerely reject the notion that the principles of justice and democracy for which the United States is supposed to stand should not be permitted any longer to be tarnished by the shameful and cowardly acts that have for so many years been carried out in our name as a consequence of the training provided by the SOA/WHINSEC at taxpayers’ expense to military officers from Latin America and the Caribbean. Moreover, no suggestion that the national security of this nation can either be justified or advance by the repressive and lethal activities which SOA promotes is morally acceptable.
Self-determination, land reform, better living wages, better and more accessible health care were the simple yet essential and popular aspirations of those who opposed the Washington-backed military juntas that were in power in Latin America during the decades of the sixties, seventies, eighties, and nineties. But during that period – the height of the Cold War, the local military’s American sponsors in partnership with U.S. diplomatic, military and intelligence agencies, routinely defined these opponents as subversives and Communists, and predicated the succession of repressive military and intelligence apparati they systematically created across the map of Latin America by pretenses that they were defending ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’.
A 1,169 page U.S. Army “Foreign Intelligence Training Program” called “PROJECT X” was designed “to develop an exportable foreign intelligence training package” to provide counterinsurgency techniques learned in Vietnam to Latin American countries. Much of “X” came from Army Field Manual FM 30-18, a classified intelligence collection operations manual. After being translated from English to Spanish, it was distributed to Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Peru. It was also taught to students from Bolivia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Mexico, and Venezuela.
The U.S. Army School of the Americas used training materials that condoned “executions of guerrillas, extortion, physical abuse, coercion, and false imprisonment” asserted an Intelligence Oversight Board (IOB) Report issued June 28, 1996, in Washington, DC. The IOB, a four-person, independent board created by President Clinton, was charged with investigating excesses and abuses by the U.S. intelligence community.
The IOB Report discredited repeated statements from SOA and Pentagon officials that the SOA seeks only to ‘professionalize’ Latin American armies and strengthen democracies. The IOB, then headed by attorney Anthony S. Harrington and including Gen. Lew Allen, Jr., USAF (Retired), found that the “School of the Americas … used improper instruction materials in training Latin American officers from 1982 to 1991. … certain passages appeared to condone practices such as execution of guerrillas, extortion, physical abuse, coercion, and false imprisonment.”
In Latin America, the SOA was popularly dubbed the “School of Assassins” after a 1993 United Nations Truth Commission implicated 19 SOA graduates out of the 26 Salvadoran officers cited for the 1989 “execution style” massacre of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her daughter in San Salvador. The U.N. Commission went on to document that three-quarters of the Salvadoran officers responsible for seven other massacres during El Salvador’s bloody civil war were trained by the Fort Benning school. Yet, “The school has never taught torture and never will,” SOA commandant at the time Col. Glenn R. Weidner told a November 1998 news conference. Speaking to Lesley Gill, an American University anthropology professor and author of the 2004 book, “The School of the Americas: Military Training and Political Violence in the Americas,” Weidner referred to the estimated 500-plus SOA graduates directly implicated in the worst documented human rights abuses as “a few bad apples.”
While that was the official line, others who were directly involved revealed a quite different story. “When I was at the school, we routinely had Latin American students who were known human rights abusers, and it didn’t make any difference to us,” one former SOA instructor related.
Another with close personal knowledge of what really was going on, tells it yet more plainly. “The school was always a front for other special operations, covert operations. They would bring people from the streets into the base and the experts would train us on how to obtain information using torture. We were trained to torture human beings. They had a medical physician, a U.S. medical physician which I remember very well, who was dressed in green fatigues, who would teach the students … [about] the nerve endings of the body. He would show them where to torture, where and where not, where you wouldn’t kill the individual.”
Such training has been provided to Latin American militaries in an understanding that their clients would willingly apply these skills in the context of a shared dislike for the popular resistance against which the policies and practices of massive repression have engendered. What was also known to have happened in many instances was the direct physical presence of American trainers alongside their Latin ‘students’ while the tortures were in progress. Blindfolded torture survivors recall hearing men speaking English or broken Spanish with an American accent.
To compensate for the ‘all business, all the time’ life at the school, trainees were routinely treated with outings to Major League baseball games, Disneyland, pizza parties, and the Coco-Cola Museum.
Consistent with the Cold War mentality and the anti-communist policies of the post-World War II political landscape, the SOA was and WHINSEC is today predicated on the premise, much like George W. Bush’s credo: “If you’re not with us, you’re against us.” Once again, a conscious institutional resistance to the very notion that the peoples of Latin America and the Caribbean yearn for self-determination, land reform, better living wages, and better, more accessible health care, rears its ugly head.
“What was the objective behind the torture and the disappearance? Where did the perpetrators of torture and genocide come from? Where did it all come from? It came from the world’s so-called leader in democracy, the United States. The United States trained more than 80,000 personnel in the School of the Americas and [other] military academies.” –Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Nobel Peace Prize winner who was imprisoned and tortured for 14 months in Argentina
From 1976 to 1983, Argentina suffered a period know as the “Dirty War”, a time characterized by military coups, torture and disappearances, during which an estimated 30,000 people died. Two of the most notorious dictators, General Roberto Eduardo Viola (trained at SOA March–December 1981) and General Leopoldo Galtieri (trained at SOA December 1981-June 1982) were SOA graduates.
A civilian court sentenced Viola to 17 years for his crimes in 1985, but as a result of military pressure, he was released after serving only 4 years. Galtieri was acquitted in the trials on charges of committing crimes of kidnapping, torture and murder against the Argentine people, but was convicted later in 1986 on charges of incompetence. He was set free after serving only a small portion of his sentence, again as a result of military pressure.
According to Argentina Nunca Mas, “a young woman testified that after she had been held blindfolded and tortured for months, she and others in her group were allowed to clean themselves, in preparation for a visit to the detention center by General Leopoldo Galtieri… Galtieri asked if she knew who he was, and if she understood his absolute power over her. ‘If I say you live, you live, and if I say you die, you die. As it happens, you have the same Christian name as my daughter, and so you live.’”
Following the war, the National Commission of the Disappeared began to collect testimony about the atrocities that had occurred. Unfortunately, the complete text of the testimonies has been archived by the Argentine government and is not available to the public. However, a list gleaned from the testimonies names seven SOA graduates, including the head of a clandestine detention center.
“In Bolivia and throughout Latin America, many in the military are deeply involved in drug trafficking – How else could they afford to live in mansions with servants, drive their expensive cars and take their vacations in the U.S. and Europe.” –-Luis Espinal, S.J., a Catholic priest of the Jesuit order who taught at the University of La Paz. In 1979 while investigating the involvement of Bolivia’s military dictatorship in drug trafficking, he was kidnapped, tortured and his body thrown on the side of the road near La Paz. Some 200,000 people attended his funeral.
On July 17, 1980, Gen. Garcia Meza Tejada carried out Bolivia’s most notorious and bloody military coup by directly assaulting the National Palace and forcing the president to resign. His right-hand man was SOA graduate Luis Arce Gomez, who was in charge of assembling a paramilitary force to overthrow the government. Arce Gomez later became Minister of the Interior, and another SOA graduate, Alberto Saenz Klinsky, was also a member of the cabinet. Seven other SOA graduates were implicated in the coup, six of whom were convicted for crimes ranging from issuing unconstitutional decrees to armed insurrection and murder. Arce Gomez was convicted in 1989 in Miami for drug trafficking and given a 30-year sentence.
Another strong supporter of Garcia Meza’s coup was 1956 SOA motor officer graduate Gen. Hugo Banzer Suarez, who himself had acted as dictator from 1971 to 1978. He was notorious for the “Banzer Plan” to silence outspoken members of the church. That plan became a blueprint for repression throughout Latin America. Banzer was also known for sheltering Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie, “The Butcher of Lyon,” and for his links to drug trafficking groups. In 1988, Banzer was chosen by the SOA for inclusion in its “Hall of Fame.”
In 2001, the Bolivian government sold the public water system of Cochabamba to a private corporation, resulting in skyrocketing water rates for the people of Bolivia. As thousands took to the streets, Bolivian president, Banzer sent out the armed forces to attack civilians. In April 2000, after four days of anti-privatization protests, Banzer declared a “state of siege”, sending soldiers into the street with live bullets.
Many other SOA graduates from Bolivia have been linked to both drug and arms trafficking. In a series of cases in the late 1980s and early 1990s, six SOA graduates were brought to trial for their links to drug rings within the military. In a separate case, a top SOA graduate was dismissed from his position as head of the Special Security Forces of the Ministry of the Interior after he was accused of covering up drug trafficking.
In 2000, Army Captain Robinson Iriarte de La Fuente, an SOA graduate, was captured on film shooting live rounds into an unarmed crowd in Cochabamba. A seventeen-year-old boy, Victor Hugo Daza, was shot and killed with a bullet through the face. Video of the shooting, posted by PBS, can be seen here: http://www.pbs.org/now/science/bolivia.html. At least seven others were killed that day, and the number of injuries resulting from military violence totaled over 100.
“The mark of the School of the Americas is engraved in the minds and bodies and in the histories of the families of the tortured, killed, and disappeared.” –From a letter by the Brazilian human rights group Tortura Nunca Mas [Torture Never Again], calling for the closure of the SOA, signed by 142 Brazilian human rights groups, women’s organizations, lawyers associations, religious groups, unions, and political parties.
In 1997, Tortura Nunca Mais reviewed its documentation of human rights abuses, including documents from the Torture Never Again project as well as pertinent court records. They determined that twenty SOA graduates and two SOA instructors were linked to repression and human rights abuses, including false imprisonment and torture by methods such as electric shock, suffocation, and injection with “truth serum”. In Brazil, El Salvador, Guatemala and Uruguay, torture survivors also recall the frequent practice of “spooning,” when a torturer uses a spoon to remove a victim’s eye/s.
Brazil has one of the most active anti-SOA campaigns in Latin America. Members of Tortura Nunca Mais, as well as other religious and political groups, have organized a series of popular protests and media events to call on the Brazilian government to stop sending students to the SOA.
The September 11, 1973 coup against the legally elected government of President Salvador Allende and its bloody aftermath were largely the work of SOA graduates. The Spanish lawyers who presented the charges that resulted in General Augusto Pinochet’s 1998 arrest also requested the indictment of 30 other high-ranking officials of the Chilean dictatorship. Ten of those are SOA graduates. Although Pinochet himself was not an SOA graduate, his influence is clearly held in high esteem in the military. In 1991, visitors could view a note from Pinochet, and a ceremonial sword donated by him, on display in the office of the SOA commandant.
Among the SOA graduates cited in the Spanish court case are the former heads of the CNI and DINA secret police, the officers who tortured and murdered Carmelo Soria, a U.N. official, and those who participated in the assault on the Allende residence. One of those responsible for the death of the U.N. official was an SOA instructor in 1987. Raul Iturriaga, an SOA graduate in 1965 and officer of DINA, used other DINA officers to torture former political prisoners and make them collaborate with DINA. Other SOA graduates have been cited for operating the Villa Grimaldi, Tres Alamos and Cuatro Alamos concentration camps for political prisoners.
Another SOA graduate, Armando Fernandez Larios, participated in the notorious assassination of former Chilean Defense Minister General Carlos Prats Gonzalez and his wife who were killed in a car bomb in Argentina. He was also indicted in 1979 by a U.S. grand jury for his involvement in the 1976 car-bombing that killed former foreign minister Orlando Letelier and U.S. citizen Ronni Moffitt in downtown Washington, DC.
Colombia has sent more troops to train at the SOA than any other Latin American country. Since 1946, Colombia is credited with sending over 9,000 of its personnel to SOA – with chilling results. Colombian military sources proudly say that the best path to rising through the ranks is by being a SOA graduate and having a diploma to show for it. The 1993 human rights report “State Terrorism in Colombia” cites 247 Colombian officers for human rights violations. Fully one-half of those cited were SOA graduates. Some were even featured as SOA guest speakers or instructors or included in SOA’s “Hall of Fame” after their involvement in such crimes. For example, Gen. Farouk Yanine Diaz was a guest speaker at the school in 1990 and 1991 after his involvement in the 1988 Uraba massacre of 20 banana workers, the assassination of the mayor of Sabana de Torres, and the massacre of 19 businessmen. According to a State Department report, he was also accused of “establishing and expanding paramilitary death squads, as well as ordering dozens of disappearances, and the killing of judges and court personnel sent to investigate previous crimes.”
“I saw this group of soldiers, shooting their rifles, approaching from ahead, and as they passed in front of me, they began to beat me with the butts of their weapons and tips of their boots. I held tight to my camera, still running, until the blow from a rifle butt broke the camera gear…I recall that a soldier with a gas mask on picked me up and a colleague from another news program came up to me. I gave him the tape and told him, ‘save the material, my friend.’ That night everyone saw those images while I recovered in a hospital with a perforated liver and my testicles destroyed by the blows. One year later I was seeking political asylum in the United States due to threats.” —Colombian journalist Richard Velez describing his treatment by troops under the command of an SOA graduate.
SOA graduates have been linked to some of Colombia’s most heinous massacres, including the 1988 massacre in Segovia in which 43 people were killed, the Trujillo chainsaw massacres, which took place between 1988 and 1991, and the 1993 Riofrio massacre. In one instance, the Colombian legislature asserts that a military officer was sent to the SOA to avoid having to answer questions about the 1991 Fusagauga massacre of a peasant family.
Supporters of the SOA have claimed that these abuses are a thing of the past. However, the 1998 U.S. State Department Report reports that the 20th military brigade was disbanded for its involvement in human rights abuses, including the targeted killing of civilians. The commander of that brigade was SOA graduate Paucelino Latorre Gamboa. The report also links SOA graduates to an illegal raid on the offices of a non-governmental human rights group, and implicates an SOA graduate for his complicity in a 1997 massacre. Clearly the abuses are not a thing of the past.
SOA Graduate Army Major Cesar Alonso Maldonado Vidales along with Captain Jorge Ernesto Rojas Galindo were detained, according to Human Rights Watch, in relation to the lethal December 2000 attack on trade unionist Wilson Borja. Major Maldonado, assigned to army intelligence at Bogota’s Thirteenth Brigade, had cell phone records linking him to one of the assassins. A witness and former soldier also verified his relation to the attack and “named high-ranking officers who he claims approved it,” among them, was SOA Graduate, General Jorge Enrique Mora, who was the commander of the Colombian Army until he was forced to resign in 2003.
According to the 2000 State Department Report on Human Rights in Colombia, SOA graduates Major David Hernandez Rojas and Captain Diego Fino Rodriguez are being prosecuted in civilian courts for the March 1999 murders of Antiqua peace commissioner Alex Lopera and two others. Both men are members of the Colombian Military’s 4th Brigade, which has been extensively linked to paramilitary groups.
SOA graduate Colonel Jorge Plazas Acevedo is being tried by the Prosecutor General of Colombia for the 1998 kidnapping and murder of Jewish business leader Benjamin Khoudari. Plazas is the former chief of intelligence for the Colombian Military’s 13th Brigade.
The State Department reports that Colonel Jesus Maria Clavijo, a graduate of the SOA, is currently under investigation for collusion with paramilitary forces in 160 social cleansing murders from 1995-1998. In addition to the information provided by the State Department Report, a 2001 Reuters article reports that Clavijo has been accused of ties to a paramilitary death squad responsible for the massacre of at least 100 people in 1996 and 1997. Clavijo is currently in prison awaiting his trial.
Finally, the report states that SOA graduate Commander Mauricio Llorente Chavez was indicted by the Prosecutor General for complicity in a massacre that took place in Tibu, July 1999.
“The Ties that Bind”, a report issued by Human Rights Watch in February 2000, cited at least seven SOA graduates for involvement with paramilitary groups. SOA graduate Brigadier General Jaime Ernesto Canal Alban, commander of the Third Brigade, was involved in helping to establish a paramilitary group known as the “Calima Front”. Canal’s brigade was found to have supplied the front with weapons and intelligence. In 1999, the Calima Front seized and executed community leader Noralba Gaviria Piedrahita. The following month, authorities discovered the mutilated and dismembered bodies of seven men near Tulu, also killed by Calima Front members. The Front has been found responsible for 2,000 forced disappearances and at least 40 executions since 1999. In addition to his involvement with the Calima Front, Canal was in command of soldiers who entered a home and killed five civilians during the birthday party of a 15-year-old child in 1998.
The report cited General Carlos Ospina Ovalle, SOA graduate and former commander of the Fourth Brigade, for “extensive evidence of pervasive ties” to paramilitary groups involved in human rights abuses throughout 1999. Ospina was the commander of the Fourth Brigade in 1998 when troops massacred at least 11 people and burned down 47 homes in El Aro.
Major Alvaro Cortes Morillo and Major Jesus Maria Clavijo, both SOA grads, were linked to paramilitary groups in 1999 through extensive cell phone and beeper communications as well as regular meetings on military bases.
Colombian Army commanding 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 has for a brief period been ineligible for U.S. military aid due to its complicity in paramilitary violence. A leading Colombian newspaper identifies General Montoya as “the military official responsible for Plan Colombia”, which has received over $5 billion in U.S. military aid since 2000. In 2002, as head of the 5th Brigade’s scorched earth campaigns in Putumayo, General Montoya was quoted saying: “We have obtained excellent results against the various bands of criminals that operate in the city. We will not stop.”
A December 2000 AP article brought attention to the death of SOA-trained Lieutenant Carlos Acosta, who was killed for “disobedience” after escaping prison to join a Colombian death squad. According to the article, Acosta had taken a month-long infantry course at the SOA in which he learned to fire M-16 assault rifles and M-60 machine guns, and was trained in battlefield tactics. Acosta was a member of the Colombian military’s 5th brigade, which has one of the worst human rights records as well as ties to paramilitary groups. Acosta was arrested when in 1994 he and his men intercepted a group of federal prosecutors, tied them up, shot them, and dumped their bodies into a river. According to Acosta’s brother, “He [Acosta] used to say that a soldier in Colombia has to fight not only guerrillas, but also the human rights groups and prosecutors”.
According to Human Rights Watch, SOA Graduate Army Captain Juan Carlos Fernandez Lopez and Colonel Victor Matamoros were indicted “for collaboration with and the formation of illegal paramilitary groups in 1997” and also between May and September of 1999 for “connection with a series of paramilitary massacres in and around La Gabarra, Norte de Santander.” More than 145 people were killed by the paramilitaries. “In May 2002, the Human Rights Unit prosecutor in charge of the case was fired, leaving the fate of the case in question.” The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed grief over the firing of key prosecutors, saying that it puts into question “the independence and autonomy of prosecutors working on investigations related to human rights violations, particularly when paramilitary groups and state agents are implicated.
General Guillermo Rodriguez who graduated from SOA in 1961 and 1966 in Irregular Warfare, came to power in 1972 via a coup was the country’s dictator until 1976.
“The soldiers from the Atlacatl Battalion came at seven in the morning. They said they had orders to kill everyone. Nobody was to remain alive. They locked the women in the houses and the men in the church. There were 1,100 of us in all. The children were with the women. They kept us locked up all morning. At ten o’clock the soldiers began to kill the men who were in the church. First they machine- gunned them and then they slit their throats.
“By two o’clock the soldiers had finished killing the men and they came for the women. They left the children locked up. They separated me from my eight-month old daughter and my oldest son. They took us away to kill us. As we came to the place where they were going to kill us, I was able to slip away and hide under a small bush, covering myself with the branches. I watched the soldiers line up twenty women and machine-gun them. Then they brought another group. Another rain of bullets. Then another group. And another.
“They killed four of my children: my nine-year-old, my six-year-old, my three-year-old, and my eight-month-old daughter. My husband was killed, too. I spent seven days and nights alone in the hills with nothing to eat or drink. I couldn’t find anyone else; the soldiers had killed everyone. God allowed me to live so that I can testify how the Army killed the men and women and burned their bodies. I didn’t see them kill the children, but I heard the children’s screams.”
–Testimony of Rufina Amaya, the sole witness to the El Mozote massacre in El Salavdor in which at least nine SOA graduates were implicated.
An estimated 60,000 civilian deaths are estimated in the violent struggle in the country between 1980-1992. In 1993, the United Nations Truth Commission Report on El Salvador cited the officers responsible for the worst atrocities committed during that country’s brutal civil war. Over two-thirds of those named were trained at the School of the Americas. One of the better-known was Major Armando Azmitia Melara.
Argentina was also ‘encouraged’ by the Reagan administration in the early 1980s to ‘lend a hand’ in El Salvador with the half-dozen operative death squads and in the refinement of their methods of torture. A number of seasoned Argentine torturers, some of them SOA graduates, were recruited to the cause through the Taiwan-based World Anti-Communist League, which had deep ties to neo-Nazi movements in South America and Europe. Another infamous SOA graduate in communications in 1972 was Major Roberto D’Aubuisson planned and ordered the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero. He had organized the National Republican Alliance (ARENA) which functioned as a full-time death squad. He also attended the CIA-run International Police Academy in Washington, where torture was part of the curriculum (see re Office of Public Safety, pages 3-5). He was known as “Blowtorch Bob” – his favorite torture device. The Truth Commission listed their crimes including:
.Assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero (1980)
.Rape and Murder of four U.S. Churchwomen (1980)
.El Mozote Massacre (1980) — more than 900 killed
.Sheraton Hotel Murders of U.S. AID labor trainers (1981) – 4 killed
.Lake Suchitlan Massacre (1983) — 117 killed
.Las Hojas Massacre (1983) — 16 killed
.Los Llanitos Massacre (1984) — 68 killed
.San Sebastian Massacre (1988) — 10 killed
.University of Central America Massacre (1989) — 8 killed
Guatemala has a long history of covert and overt U.S. military involvement in its affairs, dating back to the CIA’s overthrow in June 1954 of the democratically-elected government of Jacobo Arbenz, claiming that it was communist-dominated. For the next 42 years, Guatemala’s soil was soaked in blood, with estimates of more than 200,000 civilians killed.
Human rights reports have recently implicated the SOA for its role in training human rights abusers. The 1998 Recovery of Historical Memory Report by the Archdioceses of Guatemala is a chilling catalog of the mechanisms of violence and its impact on Guatemalan society. Among the findings of that report were that SOA graduates were responsible for the assassination of anthropologist Myrna Mack, the cover-up of the murder of U.S. citizen Michael Devine, and the torture and murder of Efrain Bamaca, husband of U.S. citizen Jennifer Harbury.
The report also states that SOA graduate Benedicto Lucas Garcia masterminded the creation of vigilante groups known as PACs that were responsible for some of the most horrific violations of the war. Furthermore, three SOA graduates were top officials in the notorious D-2 intelligence agency, which the report characterizes as having played “a central role in the conduct of military operations, in massacres, extrajudicial executions, forced disappearances, and torture.” It is also known that SOA graduates held key cabinet positions under the brutal dictatorships of Lucas Garcia, Rios Montt, and Mejia Victores.
The Guatemalan Truth Commission Report, released in 1999, was written by the independent Historical Clarification Commission, which was established as part of the peace accords. Although the report could not name names of those responsible for specific crimes, it does single out the SOA. “Some Guatemalan officers and junior officers attended basic and advanced courses in Intelligence and Counterintelligence at the School of the Americas of the U.S. Army Southern Command. Moreover, in training some officers, manuals from the U.S. schools were used. The Historical Clarification Commission had access to some of these, which were written in Spanish. For example, the manual, ‘Terrorism and the Urban Guerilla’ says that ‘another function of counterintelligence agents is to recommend counterintelligence targets to be neutralized…examples of these targets are government officials and political leaders…’”
In January 2000, an SOA graduate, Col. Byron Disrael Lima Estrada, was arrested in Guatemala for the 1998 assassination of Bishop Juan Gerardi. According to a declassified U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency biographic sketch, Lima Estrada took Military Police training at the School of the Americas. Lima Estrada went on to head the infamous D-2 Military Intelligence agency at the height of the genocide campaign in Guatemala’s civil war.
In June 2001, SOA graduate and former head of Guatemala’s notorious D-2 Intelligence Unit, Col. Byron Lima Estrada, along with his army captain son, former presidential bodyguard and a priest were convicted of the bludgeoning death of Bishop Gerardi. Human Rights Watch heralded this as “the first time a Guatemalan court ruled that army officers cannot get away with murder”.
Two days prior to his murder, Gerardi had released the REMHI report on wartime human rights abuses concluding that the army and associated paramilitaries were responsible for over 87% of the civil war’s 200,000 dead. Lima Estrada headed the infamous D-2 intelligence agency that was heavily cited in Gerardi’s report. The night before the trial began, the home of the presiding judge, Iris Yasmin Barrios, was attacked with grenades. The attack occurred despite the presence of police guards stationed at her house.
The Army unit called G-2 was directly advised, armed, supplied and infiltrated by the CIA in a network of torture facilities. The unit routinely used electric shock, chopped off limbs, and burnt flesh of prisoners. G-2 even had its own crematorium for the elimination of what could be incriminating evidence.
The year 2000 brought genocide cases against two former Guatemalan dictators trained at the SOA. In March, Rigoberta Menchu Tum, Nobel Peace Prize winner, filed suit in a Spanish court against SOA graduate General Efrain Rios Montt, who took power through a coup and governed Guatemala at the height of a massive counterinsurgency campaign that wiped 448 Mayan villages off the map, left thousands dead and forced hundreds of thousands into refuge or exile. The case also cites SOA graduates General Angel Anibal Guevara Rodriguez, the Minister of Defense and Colonel German Chupina Barahona, Director of the National Police.
In a parallel case, a group of Mayan survivors sued former dictator General Fernando Romeo Lucas Garcia as well as former Army Chief of Staff General Benedicto Lucas Garcia and former Defense Minister Luis Rene Mendoza, all graduates of the SOA. According to a recently declassified CIA document, Benedicto Lucas Garcia was key in strategizing the scorched earth policy that aimed to annihilate the civilian Mayan population. The plaintiffs are suing the former chiefs for ordering the rape, torture and massacre of their families and fellow community members. Their association represents eight communities that lost 800 people to massacres during the Lucas Garcia regime from 1981 to 1982.
The leader of the infamous Guatemalan death squad Mano Blanca (White Hand) spoke blatantly about why he was about to kill a particular individual: “I know he’s a Communist and so we’re going to kill him. … I know he’s a Communist because I hear him say he would give his life for the poor.” General Efrain Rios Montt was an evangelical zealot who came to power in 1982 with much help from Ronald Reagan’s White House and the Religious Right. He oversaw a “scorched earth policy” against the indigenous Mayan villagers that killed over 20,000 people. This brutal chapter earned him the dubious title of “Guatemala’s Pinochet.” Yet, Reagan called him “a man of great personal integrity and commitment.”
Another infamous death squad actively supported by and collaborators with the military and by extension, its U.S. trainers and equippers, was the so-called Movement for National Liberation (MLN). Its leader was Mario Sandoval Alarcon, who declared on a 1980 radio broadcast: “I admit that the MLN is the party of organized violence. Organized violence is vigor, just as organized color is scenery and organized sound is harmony. There is nothing wrong with organized violence; it is vigor, and the MLN is a vigorous movement.”
In addition, on March 21, 2001, Guatemala’s highest court ordered General Rios Montt and five other lawmakers to resign from their congressional posts in order to face impeachment charges. The six were involved in a corruption scandal in which they were accused of altering a law passed by the legislature in June 2000, which placed a 20% tax on alcoholic beverages. Mysteriously, the legislation was passed into law as a tax of only 10%.
Haiti has sent relatively few officers to train at the SOA, primarily because SOA courses are offered in Spanish, and only recently in English. Less than 50 Haitian officers have attended the SOA since it was founded, but their presence has been felt. In 1987, SOA graduate Gambetta Hyppolite ordered his soldiers to fire on the Provincial Electoral Bureau in Gonaives as part of a larger Army campaign to stop the democratic elections. In 1988, SOA graduate Franck Romain masterminded the St. Jean Bosco massacre in which 12 prisoners were killed while attending mass and at least 77 were wounded.
Haitian soldiers and officers have also trained at many other U.S. facilities. For example two of the most infamous ones, Defense Minister General Raoul Cedras, and Michel Francois, Port au Prince Police Chief, were SOA graduates. In fact, however, they graduated from the U.S. Army Infantry School, also located at Fort Benning.
“(…) the order was to take everyone: parents, grandparents, kids, wives, everyone. It was very rare that anyone survived after being taken by my battalion. At first the children were abandoned in the park or the marketplace. But then, General Alvarez Martinez said ‘These seeds will eventually bear fruit’. So we had to eliminate the children as well.” — SOA graduate who once was a member of a secret death squad in Honduras, Battalion 3-16, Gen. Alvarez Martinez was trained at the SOA. Four of the five ranking Honduran officers who organized death squads as part of Battalion 3-16 also are graduates.
At least 19 key members of Honduran Battalion 3-16 graduated from the SOA. U.S. and Argentine advisors helped establish that death squad battalion around 1980. It operated in secrecy for years, until former members came forward to reveal its clandestine campaign of kidnappings, torture and disappearance. Members of the Battalion trained at the SOA on two, three, and even four separate occasions.
Generals Gustavo Alvarez Martinez and Daniel Bali Castillo took a Joint Operations course at the SOA in 1978, just prior to establishing Battalion 3-16. General Luis Alonso Discua, first commander of the Battalion, took three courses at the SOA. General Juan Lopez Grijalva, second in command of the battalion throughout the early 80s, took three SOA courses. He was also a guest speaker at the SOA in 1991 and 1992, long after an Americas Watch report detailed his involvement with the death squad. General Humberto Regalado Hernandez took four courses at the SOA. As commander of the Honduran Armed Forces in the late 80s, he shielded the Battalion from investigations. He was inducted into the SOA Hall of Fame in 1988.
In one 1982 incident, Battalion members kidnapped six university students. They were taken to the house of SOA graduate Amilcar Zelaya, which several witnesses state was a clandestine prison where many were tortured and killed. There, they were beaten, had rubber hoods placed over their heads until they nearly suffocated, and they were threatened with death. They were released when the father of two students, a government official, pushed for their release. Charges were brought against ten military officials, four of whom were SOA graduates.
Atrocities committed by Honduran death squads were reported by James LeMoyne, former El Salvador bureau chief for the New York Times. In his June 5, 1988 article, LeMoyne told the story of Florencio Caballero, a self-confessed interrogator in a Honduran army death squad. Caballero says he was trained in Texas by the Central Intelligence Agency. According to Caballero, who sought exile in Canada, he and 24 others were taken to Texas between 1979 and 1980 to be trained by the army and the CIA. Caballero said that, in Texas, the Americans taught ‘interrogation in order to end physical torture in Honduras. They taught us psychological methods – to study the fears and weaknesses of a prisoner. Make him stand up, don’t let him sleep, keep him naked and [in] isolation, put rats and cockroaches in his cell, give him bad food, serve him dead animals, throw cold water on him, change the temperature.
Caballero told LeMoyne that he tortured and murdered about 120 Hondurans and other Latin Americans. And he told LeMoyne about secret jails, murder, and CIA involvement in Honduras.
Caballero told LeMoyne about the torture of 24-year old Ines Murillo in 1983, which LeMoyne was able to confirm. Murillo was a prisoner in a secret army jail in Honduras, and Caballero interrogated her and watched her get tortured. For 80 days, Murillo was beaten, electrically shocked, burned, starved, exposed, threatened, stripped naked, and sexually molested. To keep her from sleeping, her captors poured water on her head every ten minutes.
According to Caballero, an American CIA agent sometimes visited the secret jail where he worked, and where Murillo was being tortured. The agent was given edited interrogation reports on the prisoners there. Caballero did not know how much the Americans knew about the physical torture that was taking place.
Murillo confirmed that during the months that she was in a secret jail, an American official periodically visited her. He was never present when she was tortured. However, Murillo did not believe the CIA could fail to know what was going on. While in jail, Mr. Caballero and other interrogators gave her raw dead birds and rats for dinner, threw freezing water on her naked body every half hour for extended periods of time and made her stand for hours without sleep and without being allowed to urinate.
Murillo survived her torture experience, mostly due to the intervention of her father, who formerly served in the Honduran military. Her father bribed a soldier to tell him where his daughter was being held. The soldier also revealed the name and phone number of the purported CIA operative. After Murillo’s father threatened to publish this information, his daughter was released into a regular jail in Honduras. Thirteen months later, she was allowed to go into exile.
One American official who spoke with LeMoyne told him explicitly that “the CIA knew what was going on.”
On October 22, 2003, the Brownsville (Texas) Herald wrote, “The Zetas, hired assassins for the Gulf (Drug) Cartel, feature 31 ex-soldiers once part of an elite division of the Mexican army — the Special Air Mobile Force Group. At least one-third of this battalion’s deserters were trained at the School of the Americas, according to documents from the Mexican secretary of defense… According to the Mexican attorney general’s office, the Zetas were implicated in dozens of shootouts along the Texas-Mexico border. They’re also suspected in the kidnapping and the execution of several police officers in Matamoros and the rescue of four members of the Gulf Cartel.”
“The School of the Americas is part of a larger project to protect and defend U.S. corporate interests in Mexico at the expense of workers and indigenous peoples. The movement to close the School of the Americas is an important expression of solidarity with the Mexican people.” —Eduardo Diaz, Mexican labor leader
Consistently the countries with the worst human rights records have sent the most students to the SOA during the peaks of repression. Given that history, it is no coincidence that Mexico is now among the top clients of the SOA. In the first 49 years of the School, Mexico sent very few students — 766 total —to be trained at the SOA. That number escalated sharply in 1996 and rose to 333 students in 1997, 1,177 in 1998 and close to 700 in 1999. Proponents of the SOA claim that this training is necessary because of Mexico’s increased involvement in the “war on drugs.” However, that is just a smokescreen. The truth is that in 1997, only 10% of Mexican students took counter-narcotics courses. No Mexican soldiers were slated for the counter-drug operations course in 1999. However, 40 were projected to take military intelligence training.
The overt emergence of the Zapatistas (EZLN) to the world on January 1994 was not fully a surprise to U.S. intelligence. On November 10, 1993 a week before the Free Trade Agreement was approved in the House of Representatives and 51 days before the uprising in Chiapas, Defense Intelligence Agency analysts sent a Secret cable to Washington, in which it reported that “. . . the Zapatista Front of National Liberation (sic: FZLN) currently operates in the border area of Chiapas, Mexico, and the western part of the Peten Department of Guatemala”.
However, the grievances of the EZLN were and are entirely genuine. As the Zapatista National Liberation Army Declaration of the Lacandon Jungle stated in 1993, just prior to its revolt,
“We have nothing to lose, absolutely nothing, no decent roof over our heads, no land, no work, poor health, no food, no education, no right to freely and democratically choose our leaders, no independence from foreign interests, and no justice for ourselves or our children. But we say enough is enough! We are the descendants of those who truly built this nation, we are the millions of dispossessed, and we call upon all of our brethren to join our crusade, the only option to avoid dying of starvation!”
It is clear that the Pentagon and the intelligence apparatus were on the Zapatistas like a fly on manure, and were quick to liaise with their Mexican counterparts. The so-called Rainbow Taskforce, a special Mexican Army unit to combat the Zapatistas, existed at least since August 1994, and is believed to have received considerable input and assistance from U.S. intelligence.
General Jose Ruben Rivas Pena, was a 1980 SOA graduate, Commando Operations and General Staff. Rivas Pena’s post-SOA analysis of the Chiapas conflict helped design the counterinsurgency strategy there, including a detailed plan to “censor local media, to secretly organize sectors of the civilian population, and to conduct psychological operations against civilians.” Later he was deployed to command the 28th Military Zone in Oaxaca, and just after he left the post, paramilitary groups immediately emerged.
Colonel Julian Guerrero Barrios, 1971 SOA graduate in Irregular Warfare Operations, was charged with the crime of “violence against the people” and his leadership in the torture and massacre of over a dozen young men who were kidnapped and tortured in Jalisco. He was charged together with 27 other officers and soldiers were also arrested in connection with these acts. They are all part of Mexican Special Forces units, called the GAFE, who received training at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare School at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
General Juan Lopez Ortiz, also a 1980 SOA graduate, was commander of the 1994 operation in Ocosingo where suspected Zapatista sympathizers were rounded up, placed alongside prisoners, and shot in the town’s market. General Gaston Menchaca Arias, a 1971 SOA graduate, was commander at the 31st Military Zone in Chiapas when the Zapatistas rose up in arms on January 1, 1994.
After the December 1998 bloody massacre of 45 Tzotzil Indian men, women and children took place at Acteal in Chiapas, hundreds of U.S.- trained Special Forces troops were immediately sent into the municipality of Chenalho. Almost immediately, Mexican Army operations commenced seeking to penetrate refugee camps of Zapatista supporters in Chenalho. Two SOA graduates, Captain Jose F. Miranda,1995 graduate in Anti-Mine Operations, and Colonel Hector Aragon, who was an instructor at the SOA.
Colonel Harold B. Rambling Torres, 1972 SOA graduate in Irregular Warfare Operations, served as Commander of the 83rd Infantry Batallion in Rancho Nuevo, Chiapas. General Carmelo Teran Montero, 1972 SOA graduate in Military Intelligence, was Commander of the “Teran” Task Force in Las Tacitas, Chiapas.
Colonel Jose Luis Lopez Ruvalcaba, 1975 SOA graduate in Jungle Operations, was Commander of the 7th Military Region Combined Operations Base in Chiapas. General Carlos Demetrio Gaytan Ochoa, 1981 SOA graduate, was Commander of the “Gaytan” Task Force in Monte Libano, Chiapas.
General Carlos Demetrio Gaytan Ochoa, 1981 SOA graduate, was Commander was Commander of the “Gaytan” Task Force in Monte Libano, Chiapas. of the “Gaytan” Task Force in Monte Libano, Chiapas.
In 1994, SOA graduate Enrique Alonso Garrido was a Commander of the 83rd Infantry Batallion in Rancho Nuevo, Chiapas.
Colonel German Antonio Bautista, 1994 SOA graduate in the Command and General Staff course, was Commander of the Army base in Ocosingo, Chiapas.
The sudden rise in Mexican graduates corresponds to the growing movement for economic justice in Mexico. The voices of and for the poor — represented by leaders like Bishop Ruiz from Chiapas — threaten the powerful and wealthy. Thus, it is not surprising that SOA graduates have come out against the Church. One SOA graduate, General Jose Ruben Rivas Pena, wrote an analysis of the conflict in Chiapas in which he stated: “The Vatican is the indirect cause of the conflict in Chiapas with its contaminated thread of liberation theology.” This rhetoric is frighteningly similar to that used in El Salvador prior to the assassination of Archbishop Romero by SOA graduates in 1980.
Those trained at the SOA are trained to silence the voices that speak out for justice. At least 18 top military officials who have played a key role in the civilian-targeted warfare in Chiapas, Guerrero and Oaxaca are SOA graduates. One of them, Juan Lopez Oritz, commanded the troops that committed an infamous 1994 massacre in Ocosingo in which soldiers tied prisoners’ hands behind their backs before shooting them in the back of the head.
For years, thousands of former S.S.-backed dictator Anastasio Somoza’s National Guard were trained by the SOA in Panama. A Somoza military official stated: “We are only putting into practice what we learned at the School of the Americas and now they call that human rights violations!” Nicaragua discontinued training at the SOA in 1979 when the Sandinistas came to power. When Ronald Reagan entered the White House in 1980, many from this famously repressive security force went on to form the backbone of the CIA-supported Contras and wage a war against their own people. It was not until 2001 when the SOA was renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation that Nicaragua resumed its training at the school.
Paraguay and Uruguay
In 1992, a former Paraguayan political prisoner, Martin Almada went to a Paraguayan police station accompanied by a judge in search of his police files. What he found, quite by accident instead, were thousands of documents piled high in a storage room detailing the kidnapping, torture, and murder of thousands of Latin American political prisoners during the 1970s. The documents also contained details of Operation Condor, a secret agreement among the Argentine, Bolivian, Brazilian, Chilean, Paraguayan, and Uruguayan security forces. This conspiracy allowed the governments to track down, kidnap across borders, and murder their political enemies. The documents Almada uncovered became known as the “Horror Archives.” More than 80,000 people were killed or disappeared, and over 400,000 were imprisoned under the program.
“The [same] folder, in a section labeled ‘instruction at the School of the Americas,’ contains a manual teaching ‘interrogators’ how to keep electric shock victims alive and responsive. The manual recommends dousing the victims’ heads and bodies with salt water, and includes a sketch showing how this ‘treatment’ should be carried out.”
-—Journalist Stella Calloni, describing the contents of the Paraguayan “Horror Archives”
Given that the CIA actively supported Operation Condor, it is not surprising that a file containing School of the Americas training manuals was discovered among the “Horror Archives.” The folder was labeled confidential and contained an interrogation manual from Fort Gulick (formerly the site in Panama of the School of the Americas), as well as the materials described above. It is also unsurprising that Paraguayan SOA graduates, such as Paraguayan armed forces chief Alejandro Fretes Davalos (as a Major 1956 in the Field Grade Officer course), were active participants in Operation Condor. He led the imprisonment and torture of hundreds of people under the dictatorship of Alfredo Stroessner. Furthermore, the Tortura Nunca Mas report names at least four Uruguayan SOA graduates who participated in the kidnapping, interrogation and torture of Uruguayans living in Brazil as part of Operation Condor.
“In the early hours of Saturday, July 18, 1992, eyewitnesses say that about 30 hooded soldiers burst into the male student dormitory at La Cantuta and forced the 60 students inside into the hallways with threats and blows. The students were forced to lie face down on the floor. One of the armed men went through the group with a list in hand, ordering that certain students be pulled out. Apparently the list had been prepared by military intelligence officers who had infiltrated the university as students.” —Human Rights Watch Report, describing the “disappearance” of nine university students and a professor.
Six of the Peruvian military officers linked to the horrific Cantuta disappearances are SOA graduates, including three who were actually convicted. One of those linked to the crime is 1965 SOA graduate Vladimiro Lenin Montesinos Torres, who ran the “Colina” death squad, which was part of the Peru’s National Intelligence Service (SIN). At age 31, as a low-ranking member of the military, he made a quick and mysterious trip to Washington. He studied law for just three months, and managed to obtain a fraudulent law degree. He then represented major drug traffickers and quickly became quite wealthy. In 1983, he was tried for treason by a military court but was abruptly acquitted, it was claimed after pressure from the American Embassy in Lima.
In 1990, he aligned himself with the new prime minister, Japanese-born Alberto Fujimori, and immediately become the head of SIN. Nicknamed “Rasputin”, he was rarely seen in public and rarely photographed. Four Peruvian officers also claim that Montesinos took an active part in torturing them after they plotted a 1992 coup attempt. One knowledgeable estimate suggests that the CIA provided over $10 million to SIN during the 1990s for his purportedly “anti-narcotics” services.
In 1996, Senator Alan Cranston wrote to the State Department asking about Montesinos’ “relationship with the U.S. intelligence community”; the answer, if any, is not known. On March 22, 1997, a SIN agent named Mariela Barreto Riofano who allegedly leaked details about the La Cantuta massacre, including the whereabouts of the bodies, as well as details of other human rights abuses by SIN, was kidnapped. Three days later, her decapitated body was found on a roadside with her arms cut off at the shoulder, and her feet also missing. The Colina death squad alone was linked to the deaths of 7,260 Peruvians by human rights investigators.
After videos shot by SIN surfaced showing Montesinos offering bribes to politicians and also threatening a popular television investigative journalist doing a series about SIN, suddenly fled the country, as did Fujimori. Montesinos is now serving 15 years, and faces a separate 20-year sentence in a gun smuggling case. Prosecutors estimate he embezzled over $1 billion while running the SIN, much of which he is known to have deposited in secret overseas bank accounts.
SOA graduates have also committed many other atrocities in Peru, including the 1985 Accomarca Massacre of 69 peasants, the Cayera Massacre of 31 people, the 1986 Lurigancho Massacre of 120 prison inmates, and a 1993 massacre in which nine prisoners were forced into an abandoned mine that was blown up with dynamite.
More recently, SOA graduates have been linked to drug trafficking. A Congressional Working Group on Chemical Substances, led by Peruvian Congressman Julio Castro, recommended the investigation of accusations linking at least 14 SOA graduates to drug trafficking.
SOA honored 1976 graduate General Nicolas Hermoza Rios who served time in a Peruvian prison, after pleading guilty to taking $14 million in arms deal gains. Hermoza is also under fire for allegedly taking protection money from Peruvian drug lords, whom the Peruvian military, along with U.S. military officials, claimed to be fighting. In 1993, a witness who had worked with Demetrio “El Vaticano” Chavez, Peru’s most notorious drug trafficker, claimed that Hermoza had been receiving between $50,000 and $100,000 in protection money per month. The witness stated that “Montesinos is the one who made the most from ‘El Vaticano’”. Both of these had very close relationships with Montesinos. At least 32 other SOA graduates have been linked to major human rights violations.
Factors known to make personalities like Montesinos and Fujimori of special continuing interest to Washington are: (a) the fact that Peru’s immediate neighbor to its north is Colombia, and much of Washington’s so-called ‘drug war’ against Colombian cocaine is based along this border. Furthermore, Peruvian Congressman Julio Castro launched a major investigation last year that links Montesinos and other Peruvian SOA graduates to drug trafficking. And (b) one of the world’s richest gold mines is in Yanacocha, in northern Peru, which has produced more than $7 billion worth of gold. Since 1994, there has been an ongoing legal dispute between the two American and French companies which shared ownership of the mine until the partnership collapsed that year. Videotapes made by SIN under Montesinos have surfaced showing him speaking twice quite convivially with the then CIA station chief urging the CIA to get the U.S. holding company (Denver-based Newmont Mining) to the table, while another video showed him pressing an intermediary with the French government to do the same with the French government-owned company. Such strategic factors often make governments look the other way when major human rights scandals emerge.