School of the Americas: The Spirited Campaign Against the SOA-WHINSEC Continues with Critics and Advocates to be Heard

Introduction: A Disgraced Institution?

The School of the Americas is an institution rarely spoken of in a positive light. This less-than-reputable academy was created at the beginning of the Cold War epoch as a U.S. military training facility for Latin America’s armed and police forces. The School of the Americas (SOA) would grow to become a magnet for negative criticism of United States policy and its reliance on local military regimes to keep leftist elements in check. The base was originally installed in Panama after World War II as a Latin American training center for U.S. ground forces, but broadened its mission and adopted a new name in 1963. The institution moved to Fort Benning, Georgia in 1984 after the signing of the Panama Canal Treaty, in part because of local pressure against having the U.S. sponsored facility remain in Panama. The SOA operated until 2001 and trained over 61,000 soldiers and officers throughout its existence.

A disturbingly large cluster of the school’s graduates have resurfaced over the years to gain notoriety for committing violent human rights abuses. Some were guilty of committing tortures, massacres, and other egregious human rights crimes during the “Dirty War” in Argentina or by government forces during El Salvador’s Civil War. Others eventually became legendary for their outrages at the command of oppressive Salvadoran, Bolivian, Guatemalan, and Brazilian regimes. The conduct of these tainted graduates earned the SOA a bleak reputation in both the U.S. and Latin America for producing human rights abusers who could be counted on to wreak havoc in their own countries.


WHINSEC — The New SOA

Concentrated criticism of the school began in earnest after a Salvadoran military death squad containing SOA alumni executed six Jesuit priests, a housekeeper, and the housekeeper’s daughter during the Salvadoran Civil War in 1989. A U.S. activist rights group formed called the School of the Americas Watch (SOAW), which stages large public protests against the SOA and zealously lobbies for the institution’s closure. A scandal erupted in 1996 following the release of information that “torture manuals” were allegedly used to instruct SOA students in the use of pain procedures to obtain information. The school would eventually be shut down due to resulting public pressure and reopen under a new name in 2001. In its place Congress authorized the creation of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), which replaced the SOA in form but not necessarily in function. Critics of the institution claim that this new organization is the same institution in everything but name, and that it will continue its old function of training. The SOAW advocates for the WHINSEC’s closure through annual demonstrations at Fort Benning and by continually supporting legislation in Congress that would slash the school’s funding.

The charges hurled against the SOA/WHINSEC (the SOAW uses the names interchangeably) puts a damning mark on the image of U.S. foreign policy throughout Latin America, but despite allegations that the school specializes as a human rights abuse training center, the institution still may not fully deserve the “School of Assassins” sobriquet that the SOAW propagates. In the past, the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA) has cited the SOA as a detrimental extension of U.S. regional policy that is better off closed, to be succeeded by a program that sponsors the democratic rights and social welfare of the people of Latin American. COHA maintains that the current U.S. emphasis on military programs like WHINSEC—and the nature of current civilian and military links to Latin America in general—needs to be drastically revised to allow for a more effective and mutually beneficial relationship. Yet, while the existence of the SOA/WHINSEC may be a reflection of a Washington policy that we, along with other people and organizations have found objectionable; the school is not the deliberate training ground for villains that is at the core of the SOAW’s longstanding claim. Rather, it can be argued that the institution should be shuddered because the somewhat misguided notion of its original mission has been met. Although the WHINSEC’s current curriculum is strikingly different from the SOA’s, the school warrants being closed because its legacy of training dishonorable graduates is not reflective of today’s hemispheric realities in which the US and Latin America now finds themselves.


U.S. Policy in Latin America and WHINSEC

The School of the Americas Watch is an organization with a self-assigned watchdog role, whose founder, Father Roy Bourgeois, is a U.S. Navy veteran and Catholic priest. He became an ordained priest in 1972 and later joined the Maryknoll order, where he spent five years in Bolivia aiding the poor. He became a tireless critic of U.S. foreign policy and founded the School of the Americas Watch after the 1990 Jesuit murders, as two of the priests were his personal friends. Since 1995, his group has staged annual demonstrations outside the school’s campus at Fort Benning, Georgia on the anniversary of the murders. Though largely peaceful, many of the protesters, including Father Bourgeois himself, have been arrested over the years for knowingly trespassing onto the fort’s grounds. Some have even faced up to six months in jail for these acts of civil disobedience. The SOAW’s central claim is that “Hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans have been tortured, raped, assassinated, ‘disappeared,’ massacred, and forced into refugee [sic] by those trained at the School of Assassins.”1 Its solution is to therefore close the school.

The SOAW’s outspoken credo is that the SOA/WHINSEC encourages or even trains its students to torture, rape, assassinate, abduct, massacre, and otherwise deliberately oppress Latin American civilians. The SOA’s defenders insist that the curriculum being followed at the WHINSEC show that this allegation is largely unsupported and entirely unfair. The most recent data from 2007 shows that of WHINSEC’s 1,076 students, 520 were enrolled in “NCO Professional Development” programs, 352 were studying in “Counter-Drug” or “Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement” programs, and the remainder attended “Military Financing” or “Counter-Terrorism” programs.2 (The list of courses is available in detail online, and the courses are open to the public.)3 These enrollment numbers clearly show that the institution’s current focus is on drug control. Col. Gilberto Perez, who was commandant of the WHINSEC until 2008, flatly stated in a 2006 public information forum that, “There were no abuses. We have never taught torture.”4 The WHINSEC maintains that its institution is open to the public, and is welcome to having civilians directly observe classes, talk to professors, and tour the grounds.

During an interview, Lee Rials, the WHINSEC’s Public Affairs Officer since 2001, insisted that “the major courses focus on advancing the officers of professional [Latin American] militaries, and training those professionals in counter-drug techniques.” Rials also went on to refute the claim that WHINSEC represented only a cosmetic change to the SOA, arguing that, “There are two differences between WHINSEC and SOA. First is the law that created us, and the second has to do simply with relevance. SOA was an institution for its day; WHINSEC is an institution for ours.”

The law Rials referred to was section 911 of H.R. 5408, the 2001 National Defense Authorization Act. That act closed down the SOA and provided for the creation of WHINSEC in its place. While representing a structural and administrative overhaul, the most noteworthy change that has come to distinguish the two institutions from one another is that “the curriculum of the Institute [WHINSEC] shall include mandatory instruction for each student, for at least eight hours, on human rights, the rule of law, due process, civilian control of the military, and the role of the military in a democratic society.” This mandate is followed very seriously in practice: all students of the WHINSEC are required to take human rights classes in order to graduate.

In preparing this study SOAW founder Father Bourgeois was also interviewed regarding his allegations against the institute. When asked why his organization continues to call for the shutdown of WHINSEC after reforms had been made, Bourgeois replied that, “It’s still a combat school; it still trains men with guns. You don’t teach democracy in the military.” Instead of spending taxpayer dollars on the controversial task of training Latin American militaries, Bourgeois suggested that training educators or healthcare providers would be much more beneficial. “Every dollar spent on a weapon is one dollar not going to the poor,” he added.

It should be noted that the actual costs of operating the WHINSEC are a tiny fraction of the hundreds-of-millions of dollars expended on military aid to Latin America each year. The operating budget for the WHINSEC in 2008 was USD 13.5 million5 , compared to the USD 445 million that is a part of the International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement aid budget for Latin America military and anti-drug efforts in 2011.6 Suspending WHINSEC’s funding would therefore not significantly alter the nature of the militarized U.S.-Latin relationship, and his critics would insist that a successful campaign against the WHINSEC alone would not address Father Bourgeois’ underlying concerns about where U.S. aid is allocated.

Causality or Coincidence?

In light of the WHINSEC’s relative circular transparency, its open-door policy for civilian over-sight, and the complete lack of evidence toward any indication to the contrary, it is safe to say that the current institution’s curriculum is not a major factor in encouraging human rights abuses as outlined by the SOAW. Since the institution was reformed, there has been no reason to believe that the WHINSEC is teaching controversial practices to its students. However, can the same be said about the SOA before the WHINSEC reforms were institutionalized, and if so, would these reforms be enough to redeem its history?

The SOAW claims that a number of “notorious graduates” received objectionable training at the school before they committed well-documented human rights violations.7 Although the SOAW provides a large list of questionable SOA alumni, the information presented by the SOAW is not always complete regarding many of their high profile graduates. The SOAW claims that these human rights abusers and oppressive dictators attended the SOA, but cross referencing the graduates with the actual classes they took at the SOA reveals that the link between their training and their crimes is tenuous and sometimes appears to be completely irrelevant.

One high profile leader showcased by the SOAW, the late Roberto D’Aubuisson Arrieta, was a notorious Salvadoran military officer and later a brutal political extremist who ordered the torture and slaughter of civilians during the Salvadoran Civil War. Yet the SOAW’s own database shows that D’Aubuisson’s only connection with the SOA was his enrollment in a Radio Operations class, a course he took at the SOA ten years before joining the Salvadorian military.8 As WHINSEC’s public relations spokesman Lee Rials observed, “What does learning radio operations and telephone communication have to do with the things he did? Nothing.”

Another example cited by the SOAW concerns general and Argentine president Leopoldo Fortunato Galtieri Castelli, who was one the countries oppressive military dictator from December 1981 to June 1982 during the ill-fated Malvinas/Falklands War. Rials confirmed that, while he was indeed an SOA graduate, “Leopoldo Galtieri attended an engineering course at the SOA in 1949 when he was a 23-year-old lieutenant.” He went on to add his personal opinion on the matter, noting, “Do you really think a U.S. Army trainer pulled him aside and said, ‘Now Leo, in 30 years from now when you’re a general in Argentina…’ Of course not, it’s a complete non-sequiter.”

Even members of El Salvador’s notorious Atlacatl Battalion, the Salvadoran Army’s notorious counter-insurgency unit that was known for its brutality and its involvement in the murder of the six Jesuit priests and others which spurred SOAW’s formation, were not comprehensively trained by the SOA. Rials noted that SOA records indicate “the Atlacatl group itself was not taught as a unit. Students come here as individuals. The notorious grads of the SOAW took different courses at SOA at different time periods. There is no way to link the courses at the SOA to the massacres.”

To back up his claim, Rials pointed to the 1993 “Report of the UN Truth Commission on El Salvador” which investigated the murders that took place during the Salvadoran Civil War.9 Of the 29 people named as being involved in the murders, 20 had some affiliation with the SOA. Although this fact may be initially shocking, records from the SOA shows that out of these 20 soldiers, three individuals took courses at the SOA after the murders, and four took courses 19 years before the murders. This still leaves a sizable number of soldiers trained at the SOA that took part in the murders, but the academic profiles on these graduates show that the majority of classes taken by the Atlacatl members were Cadet or Combat Arms Officer courses.10 These combat courses are best explained by the U.S. Cold War policy of providing military aid to the Salvadoran government to fight jungle warfare leftist guerrillas such as the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), which the Atlacatl Battalion was created to counter.

The man who actually ordered the murder of the Jesuit priests, Col. René Emilio Ponce, was completely unaffiliated with the SOA. The Center for Justice and Accountability, a UN and Amnesty International-supported NGO that identifies human rights abusers, does not hold the SOA accountable in any way for the massacre.11 According to Rials;”There is simply no cause-effect relationship between the [SOA/WHINSEC] and human rights violations.”

These few examples are not intended to comprehensively exonerate all graduates of the SOA. While there is a very real possibility that Cold War SOA students were taught controversial practices to combat guerilla threats, it is obscured by the sensational information circulated by the SOAW. The SOAW is hurting its own cause by confusing correlative and causative relationships and by reducing all SOA graduates into a single archetypical bad-guy. The group’s oversimplification of U.S.-Latin American military aid helps polarize support, but it does not add credibility to an otherwise legitimate argument. The SOAW is spending too much time vilifying a rather irrelevant institution while it could be directly challenging the leadership that helped form it. If they want to make a substantial difference in hemispheric welfare, the SOAW may want to revise its message from the populist standpoint of being zealously against the School of Assassins, to a more reasoned approach of questioning the policies and effects of U.S.-supported militarization.

The Nefarious “Torture Manuals”

The greatest damage to of the School of the Americas’ image, and the rallying banner for the SOAW today, was the Pentagon’s 1996 release of the SOA “torture manuals.” These training documents, compiled entirely in Spanish, were drafted in the mid-1980s and were apparently used by instructors at the facility from 1989 to 1991.12 Containing extremely questionable material sanctioning extortion, interrogation, and kidnapping; these manuals were not submitted to Army or Department of Defense authorities for review. The Pentagon found that instructors at the SOA “incorrectly assumed that the information in the manuals was consistent with approved doctrine.”13 Nevertheless, the Department of Defense made them available to the public in September 1996, stating; “The review found that about two dozen isolated phrases, sentences or short passages, out of 1,100 pages in six manuals, were objectionable or dubious.”14 Upon the release of the “torture manuals” (which can be read at the SOAW website) Father Bourgeois told reporters that, “We are hoping, the Pentagon’s revelation, made public, will force Congress to say `No more. Let’s shut this place down.'”15 In his view, this was the damning evidence the SOAW needed, proof that the institution was teaching its students to abuse human rights, and that the disclosure legitimized his movement to close the school down.

The Pentagon’s review of the manuals in its 1991-1992 report, titled “Report of Investigation, Improper Material in Spanish-Language Intelligence Training Manuals,” predictably came to a different conclusion. The review noted that the manuals were illegitimately rehashed from old 1960’s Foreign Intelligence material used during the Cold War.16 It also revealed that the manuals were not approved by the DOD or the Pentagon, and stated “It is incredible that the use of the lesson plans since 1982, and the manuals since 1987, evaded the established system of doctrinal controls. Nevertheless, we could find no evidence that this was a deliberate and orchestrated attempt to violate DOD or Army policies.”17 Regardless of if this statement is true or not, it was an incredibly weak defense for an already troubled institution.

Whether or not the manuals were used to teach depends on who you ask; while the manuals were clearly a grave military oversight that ignited media frenzy, their actual significance has been ex-tensively debated. The Pentagon, WHINSEC, and Rials all have suggested that “there is also no indication that they were ever used in practice,” while SOAW and Father Bourgeois argue that they are undeniable proof that the SOA was teaching illegal practices. Although it was inexcusable that these manuals managed to evade official review, it remains debatable whether the use or non-use of these manuals would have affected the outcome of the future massacres. The material outlined in the manuals does not advocate mass murder, and it is hard to believe that the brutal Atlacatl Battalion, which had a particular talent for brutality, needed U.S. training to figure out how to murder unarmed civilians.

Conclusion

Whether the School of the America facilitated human rights abuses will likely to continue to re-main frustratingly uncertain. Nevertheless, despite its parent institution’s history, it is apparent that today’s reformed Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation does not promote human rights abuses. The WHINSEC may not currently utilize objectionable material, but that has not stopped the SOAW and Father Bourgeois from continuing their activism. Father Bourgeois said, “This school is still about [America] holding on to the power of the military in these [Latin American] countries. The U.S. has played an important role in keeping these oppressive militaries well-armed and well-trained, but you can only oppress people for so long.” Bourgeois insisted that “America has, over the years, been exploiting the cheap labor of [Latin America.] The U.S. is on the side of oppressing those masses; we’re addicted to guns and weapons.” The main aim of closing the WHINSEC is “to distance ourselves from the past” he said.

Although there are some serious grey areas of the SOA’s teaching practices, it clearly is not the intent of the U.S. Department of Defense to produce human rights abusers, and it most certainly did not train the “notorious graduates” in the tactics that would wreak political and humanitarian havoc in the years to come. Blame for those atrocities should be primarily assigned to the men who perpetrated them, though the SOA can be faulted for not looking at the human rights violations track record of the governments it trained. Even if the U.S. did overlook the history of the military personnel it was training, it would have been be a policy decision on the national level, not a decision of the SOA itself.

Despite what critics say, the SOA is closed, and the WHINSEC appears to be destined for a much more modest and appropriate role in light of the current administrations hemispheric policy. Closing the school itself will not change U.S. foreign policy, nor will it alone bring on a positive change in the welfare of Latin American citizens. If activists such as today’s SOAW followers want to see fewer U.S. weapons and U.S. trained soldiers flow into to Latin America, they should direct their energy at the source of U.S.-Latin American decision-making policy in Washington, not the WHINSEC’s application of it.

References for this article can be found here

21 thoughts on “School of the Americas: The Spirited Campaign Against the SOA-WHINSEC Continues with Critics and Advocates to be Heard

  • April 22, 2011 at 2:33 pm
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    Wow, COHA has had the occasional boneheaded "analysis" but this one beats the others hands down! It would not have been any different if it had been written in a Pentagon PR office. This analysis is completely unworthy of COHA's long history of progressive research and analysis. It makes it difficult to continue to recommend COHA as a resource if it would publish such a pro-military biased article and pass it off as thoughtful analysis.

    Reply
  • April 22, 2011 at 5:20 pm
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    Immodestly, I'd like to suggest that interested
    persons might read my nonfiction account
    of the U.S. police program in Latin America,
    "Hidden Terrors," published by Pantheon
    Books in New York in 1978 and in Brazil
    as "A Face Oculta do Terror" the same
    year and translated by Roberto Raposo.

    A. J. Langguth

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    • April 23, 2011 at 7:24 am
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      Hi,
      I'm the N.Y. Times stringer in El Salvador. I'd like to be able to show your book to people here. Is there a Spanish translation of it, or at least of sections of it?
      Thanks very much for your work over the years.
      Gene Palumbo

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  • April 22, 2011 at 5:27 pm
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    1. During the Kennedy administration, there was this "winning hearts and minds" emphasis on the School of the Americas teaching principles of sound public administration and how to effectively do public works and do other things that an army could do to garner public support. So they taught army officers how to run governments, and after Kennedy died and the policy of frowning on military coups was relaxed, these officers went home and took over the governments of their countries. Let that be a lesson for those with mushy liberal ideas about reforming the mission of SOA.

    2. It's a stretch to accuse the SOA of planting the seed of knowledge about torture in the military establishments of countries that, after all, have the Spanish Inquisition in their histories. The SOA just, during the course of the Dirty Wars, taught how to be systematic and strategic about its use.

    3. Consider also the role that SOA plays in arms sales, as in teaching Latin American military people how to use US-made equipment.

    We don't have to flat-out hate the US military, or be pacifist advocates of its abolition, to understand that this is a program that should be abolished.

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  • April 22, 2011 at 5:38 pm
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    The slant here ignores entirely what is being done in Honduras by US armed and trained soldiers; , students, teachers and school administrators are branded as thugs and are being killed; teachers are targeted for objecting when their pension funds were stolen by the US supported dictator.

    The problem is the immoral slant of the entire US military. The humanitarian military occupation of Haiti after the earthquake took over the medical school for a headquarters building. How much more immoral can any organization be? Luckily the Cubans rescued the Haitian medical students from the miasma of US military sin against humanity and tokk them to Cuba to complete their education.

    The point? It is impossible for a military school of an immoral national government to have a higher moral standard than the government it is a part of. Note that the students were not transferred to the military occupier's medical schools.

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  • April 22, 2011 at 9:07 pm
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    This attack on the SOAW seems to be evidence that the continued activities of the SOAW actually is continuing to impact the US foreign policy folks in Washington. This poorly written article from COHA is trying to use incomplete and misleading historical notes to somehow falsely separate the WHINSEC from US military and foreign policy. As noted in other comments, it also ignores the recent involvement of the US trained military of Honduras in the coup there and the build up of our military posture and actions in the other nations of our hemisphere. The sad situation continues as our military industrial complex continues to hold a hammer and look for every nail available. The COHA apparently thinks that our military is a most suitable institution to teach other nations about democracy.
    George Pauk

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  • April 23, 2011 at 6:18 am
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    Although, I share the opinion of George Pauk, Garret Connelly and that of Chuck Kaufmann partially I don't want to blame COHA for the history of WHINSEC and the entire US foreign policy.
    As for me, I am grateful for this article for mentioning the scandal at all while additionally citing the point of view of Father Bourgois.
    In my imagination the difficulty for COHA seems to be to appear balanced, however, the disadvantage seems to be that finally no one is satisfied.
    One student of the infamous School of the Americas was Luis Posada Carriles, another notorious terrorist having been lately acquitted in El Paso, Texas.
    This example alone is proving that the US foreign policy did not really change despite of so called reforms.

    Reply
  • April 23, 2011 at 8:46 am
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    About the only useful idea in this article involves appropriate strategies for reforming US policies toward Latin America. Yes, the SOA is a relatively minor part of overall US strategy in dollar terms. That narrow vision, however, ignores the public relations disaster generated by the School's links to some of Latin America's most brutal torturers and murderers. Just as the Panama Canal Zone symbolized archaic US imperialism, the SOA symbolizes unholy alliances in the eyes of many Latin Americas. One might argue that selecting smaller, clearer targets, lke SOA, has a better chance of success than challenging the broad spectrum of ill-advised polices over the past 60 years. To comprehend that broader context and to identify other specific policy targets in need of reform, I suggest Stephen G. Rabe's The Killing Zone: The United States Wages Cold War in Latin America (Oxford, 2012),

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  • April 23, 2011 at 9:17 am
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    The article practically ignores the context, namely, the Cold War. If it's US against THEM, anything goes. Anyone who was not entirely pro-American (North American) was just dirt, to be wiped away. The moral compass was stuck. We need to ask, why did Latin American militaries need training anyway? Obvioously, they needed it to be on "our" side. Of course, no instructor (or very few) stood up and said, "This is how you torture." But the message was, "Whatever works, do it." (Unfortunately, even with the Cold War ended, the mentality remains the same).

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  • April 23, 2011 at 10:20 am
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    Perhaps supporters of SOAW should have a look at the police and army officers from Latin America who have been given refuge in the US after the governments (human rights abusers) they worked for fell to democratic elected representatives.

    Perhapsthese men in uniforms new too much in their own countries about masaccres and murders of peasent and community leaders?.
    Instead of killing them, maffia style for knowing too much, may be these governments masterminded save passage as refugees in the USA?

    Would COHA or SOAW have a look at this angle of the story?

    Reply
  • April 23, 2011 at 10:50 am
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    When blaming army officers from Latin America who have been given refuge in the US one should bear those Us officers in mind who tortured in Abu Ghraib, in Guantanamo Bay, those within the US who are violating the human rights of Bradley Manning just now,
    the native American Leonard Peltier languishing in prison since more than 30 years, Mumia Abu Jamal, the Cuban Five as to name the most famous cases in Europe.

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  • April 24, 2011 at 6:42 pm
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    COHA's article on the SOA: you've missed the real spirit

    Greetings friends from COHA, I was delighted to see in my inbox the first part of the title of the recent COHA article("the Spirited Campaign against the SOA/WHINSEC……..). And so, I immediately opened it with enthusiasm. I asumed that, since your office is right between Dupont Circle and the White House, you might have opened your window 2 weeks ago and seen the spirited march passing by, calling for the close of SOA. I assumed that you had also seen the huge puppets marching with spirited toddlers, trumpeters, octogenarians, nuns and political refugess along with other spirited participants from California and Canada, Florida and Michigan, Mexico and Argentina, calling for the close of the SOA.. Or that maybe that abundance of spirit had motivated you had to join the parade yourself, so that you joined them in arriving at the White House where a spirited theatrical performance drew in hords of tourists. And that that maybe you were moved by the bold spirit of many young people, such as my daughter Maia, as they chose to participate in the die-in at the White House, knowing that arrest awaited them.

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    • April 24, 2011 at 6:43 pm
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      I wonder if you asked Maia if she agrees with your author's statement that the SOA is "a rather irrelevant institution". She was 14 years old when SOA graduates overthrew her president, someone she knew to be the champion of the poor communities where we lived in Barquisimeto, Venezuela. Or if you had asked Gerardo Torres of Honduras, who marched with Maia, if he thought of SOA/WHINSEC as irrelevant. It's less than 2 years since their graduates removed his president, and along with that, the ideal of birthing a new and hopeful moment for his country.

      Over the past 4 years I have visited 18 countries with Fr. Roy Bourgeois, on the live trail of the SOA. There is no room in this email to share the enormous trail of tears that we have heard on that journey. There are literally no words to come any where near to expressing it, even if I were Walt Whitman or Henry David Thoreau or Isabel Allende. Never could I find the words.

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      • April 24, 2011 at 6:44 pm
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        But, I will mention that, to put it mildly, to Latin Americans, from the Rio Grande to Patagonia, the SOA/WHINSEC is not a "rather irrelevant institution". It is a source of tremendous evil both past, and present. This is also what we heard when representatives from 19 countries of the Americas gathered a few months ago for the SOAW South-North Encuentro, to look at ways to work together to close this school.

        I will also mention that in my journeys I have sat down with many SOA graduates, some of them quite well known. One, the former Venezuelan Defense Minister General Raul Baduel, asked to meet with Fr. Roy and I when he knew that we heading to Argentina to ask (successfully) that they withdraw from the SOA. What he told us was this: It's not what they teach at the SOA, it's the fact that once you go, you are a members of the Boy's Club. When they need something accomplished, they will call on you" .A year or so after that conversation, it seems that he received a tap on his own shoulders.

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        • April 24, 2011 at 6:45 pm
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          Another thing we learned, from one of the presidents we visited, who took it upon himself to look into how the SOA decides whom to invite. In most countries, they insist upon choosing the invitees, and that these invitees are the most promising and rising stars in their military fields. Many do go on to be leaders, and their loyalty to their alma mater is often very evident.

          So, back to the march. It is definitely a shame that you didn't see us go by since you would have realized that we actually are heeding the second part of your sugggestion (part 1 seems to be that we stop wasting time on such an irrelevant institution, but part 2 calls us to look at the larger issue of US militarization in Latin America.) That's exactly what the march are previous conference focused on. I wish that you had been at the conference,as there was so much to learn first hand about this, with workshops led by activists from Honduras, Haiti, Venezuela, Mexico, Costa Rica and other places.

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          • April 24, 2011 at 6:45 pm
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            So, join the spirit and sign up for the SOAW list serve and better yet, order a box of PRESENTES to distribute. It will help you have a lot more spirit (and information) when writing about Latin America. Seriously folks, you have only done a disservice to your otherwise quite insightful and informative analyses.

            From Barquisimeto, Venezuela, abrazos , Lisa Sullivan

  • April 24, 2011 at 6:59 pm
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    COHA is very disappointing here. Urschel assumes that the case against SOA and WHINSEC rests solely on the kind of cause/effect on human rights that could be proven in court. The impact of the school has more to do with the prestige and US military intimacy it creates for Latin American officers who have committed large numbers of abuses in impunity. Even at the individual level, Urschel is mistaken to think that the only way you support a criminal is by providing the specific tools of the crime – you can also support through increasing skills, and a kind of untouchability because, the gringos got your back. The impunity reinforced in this manner contributes to many more such crimes being committed, because officers know they can get away with it.

    I recommend Langguth's book, as well as Katherine McCoy's article on SOA grads and human rights, Leslie Gill's book on SOA, and Fellowship of Reconciliation's study of US military aid to Colombia and extrajudicial killings (http://forusa.org/colombia-report-2010).

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  • April 25, 2011 at 7:26 pm
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    Not only is this "report" blatantly one-sided, but it is also full of grammatical errors. In an odd way that was somewhat comforting, as I realized that the author, Augustus Urschel, is as blind to the use of a semi-colon (or the more updated use of the word "re-main") as he is the history of U.S. intervention in Latin America (and beyond). Unfortunately, the author was unable to keep his poorly-researched musings to himself, leaving the rest of us with some homework (and a pounding headache). Here goes!

    "Though largely peaceful, many of the protesters, including Father Bourgeois himself, have been arrested over the years for knowingly trespassing onto the fort’s grounds."
    –Augustus, arrests are often a result of peaceful means. Would you contend that dropping bombs on Libya are peaceful because they have technically been legalized, and have not resulted in any arrests?

    "This mandate is followed very seriously in practice: all students of the WHINSEC are required to take human rights classes in order to graduate."
    vs.
    "The SOAW claims that these human rights abusers and oppressive dictators attended the SOA"
    –So when Lee Rials (WHINSEC’s PAID Public Affairs Officer) says it, you report it as fact, but when an independent watchdog group says it, it's just a claim.

    “questionable SOA alumni”
    — Regardless of whether or not you believe their training at the SOA to be influential in their human rights abuses, how can you refer to mass murderers, rapists, and torturers as "questionable"?

    “The group’s oversimplification of U.S.-Latin American military aid helps polarize support, but it does not add credibility to an otherwise legitimate argument.”
    –In reality, Augustus, YOU oversimplify U.S. military aid to Latin America, not SOA Watch. The operational budget of WHINSEC is not the only military aid SOA Watch opposes. SOA Watch stands in solidarity with groups that oppose much of the “drug war” funding that goes toward poisoning rural families, land and animals in Colombia, and opposes the military aid recently paid to an oppressive and illegitimate Honduras.

    “The SOAW is spending too much time vilifying a rather irrelevant institution while it could be directly challenging the leadership that helped form it.”
    –It seems to me that COHA is spending too much time vilifying SOAW while it could be directly challenging oppressive U.S.- Latin American relations.

    And last, but certainly not least…..

    "it is clearly is not the intent of the U.S. Department of Defense to produce human rights abusers”
    –Please, Augustus, turn off Fox News.

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  • April 26, 2011 at 9:09 am
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    This should give everyone some idea of where Augustus Urschel is coming from. He's actually supporting the US-Colombia FTA and apparently COHA is allowing itself to be used as a platform for the dissemination of views that are completely out of touch with progressive movements in either the US or Colombia. This is a quotation from an article he wrote at COHA called "Building Momentum, but Problems Remain for US-Colombia Free Trade":

    The present Colombian government is making serious efforts to legitimize its practices and curb human rights violations within its borders. Provided that Obama's delegation does not unearth any shocking new information, the president should put serious effort into ushering the FTA with Colombia through Congress. Further stalling the FTA — especially now that the ATPA has expired — will needlessly hurt both American and Colombian businesspeople with little to show for it.

    Here's a link for the article: http://octavioislas.wordpress.com/2011/03/18/6773

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  • April 26, 2011 at 10:32 pm
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    To the Pentagon: Relax! Plausible denial is now well entrenched at COHA. Your manuals ARE being read; perhaps even re-packaged at no cost! Apparently SOA/WHINSEC no longer constitutes the pedagogical praetorian guard of a network of imperial organizations designed to ensure that Latin Americans know their place, in the back yard. The CIA, USIA, SOUTHCOM; the Pacto of Río; Conference of American Armies, national military academies, US Office for Police Training, IMET and MAP inter al, along with the US armed forces guarantor of last resort, are all disconnected instances of Washington's readiness to do good deeds and protect us from terrorist states. Their intimate links to the military industrial complex were just imaginary! It's God's work their really doing. Or at least it might be if delusional nonsense like Augustus's were to triumph.

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