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Sidebar: Conscience Causes Religious Conviction

Campaign to Close School of
the Americas Builds

by Michael Steinberg

A pending House bill and a New York Times editorial recently renewed demands to close the School of the Americas (SOA), a US Army facility at Fort Benning, Georgia. This latest clarion call for action was sounded in the wake of fresh revelations that training manuals used at the SOA, and disseminated by it throughout Latin America, openly advocated the use of murder and torture. The momentum to abolish the US Army facility at Fort Benning, Georgia, has grown through the ceaseless efforts of School of the Americas Watch (SOAW) activists.

The SOA, originally founded in Panama 50 years ago, was supposedly intended to stabilize the region by "professionalizing" Latin American military officers. But its real role has become brutally clear. According to information obtained by SOAW, too many of the 60,000 such officers who have attended the SOA have gone on to become dictators, death squad leaders, and perpetrators of the worst atrocities in the region.

Manuel Noriega and Roberto D'Aubuisson were among its graduates, as well as Guatemala's Colonel Julio Roberto Alpirez, who ordered the murders of US citizen Michael Devine and Efrain Bamaca, husband of US attorney Jennifer Harbury.

In El Salvador, SOA alumni include the assassins of Archbishop Romero, the rapist murderers of four US churchwomen, and the leaders of the massacre of 900 people at El Mozote.

The list of SOA grads implicated in such horrors goes on and on, including ones in Peru, Colombia, Honduras and Nicaragua.

These atrocities have earned the SOA the moniker "School of Assassins."

Activists On the Move

The momentum to abolish the SOA has grown through the ceaseless efforts of School of the Americas Watch (SOAW) activists. The School of Americas Watch is located across the street from the Fort Benning gate leading into the SOA. Headed up by Maryknoll priest Father Roy Bourgeois, the group has been unrelenting in its efforts to educate the public about the real mission of the SOA, and to close it down.

In November, 1995, 13 SOAW supporters from 11 states were arrested at Fort Benning while enacting the 1989 murders in El Salvador of 6 Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter. Of 26 officers implicated in these murders by a U.N. report on Salvadoran human rights violations, 19 are SOA graduates.

On April 29, 1996, in Columbus, Georgia, home of both SOA and SOAW, Judge Robert "Maximum Bob" Elliott sentenced all 13 to federal prison, including a 77 year old WWII vet and a 74 year old nun. But he singled out Father Roy Bourgeois for the harshest-and maximum-sentence of six months. [See side-bar interview].

Undeterred, SOAW returned to Fort Benning's main gate last November. A four-day vigil there culminated on November 16 with a demonstration of 500 strong bearing crosses and gravemarkers to honor victims of SOA grads.

This time 60 protesters from 18 states and DC crossed onto the base and were arrested while planting crosses and markers. Two were arrested after hanging rosaries on doorknobs of SOA dorms.

Simultaneous with SOAW actions, Congressman Joseph Kennedy is sponsoring HR 611 to close down the SOA. As Kennedy said while attending the trial of the SOA 13, "The most abusive torturers in this hemisphere have one thing in common-they went to the School of the Americas. Let us close this school and cut off its funding!"

On April 23, 40 people from NC joined hundreds of others to lobby Congress for the bill.

Training Manuals Released

The debate as to the future fate of the SOA has shifted rapidly towards its closure in the past year, such that last September a New York Times editorial proclaimed, "An institution so clearly out of tune with American values and so stubbornly immune to reform should be shut down without further delay."

The Times September 28 editorial was responding to the Pentagon's (September 20) release of seven training manuals prepared by the US Army and used at the School of the Americas from 1987 until mid-1991. These manuals were released through the efforts of Joe Kennedy after he noticed a passing mention of them in a June '96 presidential Intelligence Oversight report on Guatemala.

The manuals bear out everything SOA and other human rights groups have long asserted as to what really was being taught at the SOA: murder, torture, extortion, and all the various and sundry totalitarian techniques of intimidation whose victims came to litter the lands of Central America during Reagan's Reign of Terror there.

For example, an excerpt from the manual "Handling Resources": "The CI [counterintelligence] agent must offer presents and compensation for information leading to the arrest, capture, or death of guerrillas."

And from the manual "Terrorism and the Urban Guerrilla": we learn: "Another function of CI agents is to recommend CI targets for neutralization.... A CI target may or may not be hostile." The lack of distinction between guerrillas and the general population pervades the manuals.

Last year the Pentagon claimed that these materials contained only "two dozen short passages in six of the manuals" of the nature quoted above. However, Lisa Haugaard of the DC-based Latin American Working Group has found that there are many more.

Even worse are findings that such materials, in other forms and with other names, have been used by the US military and CIA, and dispersed throughout Latin America, for decades. The result, so aptly expressed in SOAW's last newsletter, has been "a paper trail ... whose consequence has been a trail of blood and suffering in every Latin American country where SOA graduates have returned."

The Real X Files

As far as we yet know, the genesis of the manuals began with the still-shadowy Project X. Project X was a mid-60s program developed by US Army Intelligence at Fort Holabird, Maryland. A 1991 Pentagon memorandum describes Project X as "an exportable foreign intelligence training package to provide counterinsurgency techniques learned in Vietnam to Latin American countries."

According to a recent report on the SOA by Joe Kennedy's office, "Virtually no official documentation of the origin or scope of the project exists today."

Project X materials made the rounds in the Army's cloak and dagger branches and were freely shared with allied militaries. According to the Kennedy report, they were used at the SOA from the mid '60s until the mid '70s.

President Jimmy Carter, responding to rising human rights violations in Central America, squelched Project X materials' use during his term. But in 1982 Reagan forces resurrected them, and his henchmen ordered Victor Tise and John Zinder, then US Army officers, to do a rush job in writing training materials for Latin American officers at the SOA. Their task basically was to update Project X material ASAP.

Tise found "objectionable material" (such as info advocating torture) in the Project X files. Higher-ups in DC reviewed such material but returned it unchanged and without comment.

Though Tise and another SOA instructor tried to take out the "objectionable material," it somehow stayed in circulation at the SOA after 1982, and found its way into six of the seven training manuals written in 1987.

The manuals were originally designed for US Mobile Training Teams (MTTs), US Army Special Forces who work with the CIA to train foreign counterinsurgency forces in their home countries. The 7th Special Forces Group, based at Fort Bragg, NC, is assigned to Latin America. The MTTs gave out the manuals in Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Peru.

Through the MTTs and the SOA, the Army distributed about 1000 sets of the manuals between '87 and the summer of '91. The SOA used them as student handouts for officers from Bolivia, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela.

The Army claims that it was unaware of the "objectionable material" in the manuals, and besides, it's asked everyone to give them back. Such claims of ignorance and subsequent responsible action are highly dubious. To date, no US military or government official has been faulted or charged for any of these egregious actions.

Various investigations have come and gone, with no real change or justice for the victims of the manuals. For example, the Intelligence Oversight report on Guatemala found fault with the Department of Justice for initially inadequately investigating the involvement of Col. Alpirez in Michael Devine's murder. But the report concluded that "DOJ has thoroughly reinvestigated the Devine case and found no basis for US jurisdiction."

In response to the March 6 release of the Kennedy report on the SOA, Pentagon spokesperson Joe March told the Washington Post, "This is largely a historical matter and subject of historical research. US policy is very clear. The things brought up ... are certainly prohibited."

But what really remains clear is that these horrors of history keep repeating themselves. On January 27, 1997, two more torture manuals, this time CIA ones, were made public due to a Freedom of Information action brought by the Baltimore Sun in 1994. One manual was used in US training courses in Honduras from '82 to '87, as well as in six other Latin American countries. The second manual dates back to 1963, and was the basis of the subsequent one.

The SOA may be shutting its doors in the not-too-distant future. These CIA manuals demonstrate, however, that there is no telling how many other government players will continue to carry out these programs.

  Many thanks to Father Roy Bourgeois, Lisa Haugaard of Latin American Working Group, and Suzy Glucksman of Joe Kennedy's office for information cited in this article.  
Conscience Causes Religious Conviction

by Michael Steinberg

I recently talked with Father Roy Bourgeois about these issues and the campaign to close down the School of Assassins.

Of the US government's washing its hands of Michael Devine and Efrain Bamaca's murders by SOA grad Col. Alpirez, Father Roy said, "This angers me. There's no accountability. There's no laws in place to make it illegal to do so. You can give someone a gun, teach the art of killing, techniques of torture, how to disappear people, and then be completely immune from prosecution."

As for those who wrote and taught the torture manuals, Father Roy said, "Nothing could be used to prosecute them other than conscience or moral outrage." Though Joe Kennedy has introduced a law that would make such things illegal, the measures cited by Father Roy have thus far been most effective.

"The progress over the last year has been incredible," he said. "The movement has taken root, no doubt. I'm optimistic, but we still have a lot of educating to do."

Last December Father Roy finished his six month prison sentence in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary, not the first time he has endured such a travesty of justice. I asked him about his time there.

"Prison is very hard," he told me. "It's no pleasant place to be. But if you go to prison for what you believe in, in our case in solidarity with the poor of Latin America who've suffered torture and death, there's a certain amount of peace from knowing you've done the right thing."

Father Roy was still in prison when the SOA torture manuals were made public. "I got a lot of calls," he said. "The media was very interested. In a sense I've never been so busy. I reached many more people from behind the walls of prison than if I'd been at SOA Watch."

"You can also be free in prison if you know you've done the right thing. At the trial we said to the judge, 'We don't fear your prisons. We will go if you tell us to. But you cannot silence the truth. We will speak from your prisons.' We did just that."

Contact your Congressperson to urge support of HR 611. Contact SOA Watch at PO Box 3330, Columbus, GA 31903, 706-682-5369.

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