Exposing the School of the Americas
Proud to be a Card-Carrying, Flag-Waving, Patriotic American Liberal
The priest was sent to a U.S. federal prison for 18 months for climbing a tree on the school grounds in a uniform he had no right to wear, and using a boom-box to blast out a speech the students would not be hearing in class.
An alumnus of that same school was acquitted by a Guatemalan military tribunal last month of the killing of U.S. innkeeper Michael Devine in Guatemala in 1990.
"The acquittal contradicts intelligence reports released by U.S. Rep. Robert Torricelli, D-N.J., and testimony by a soldier convicted of the murder that he was acting on orders," the Associated Press reported in the Sept. 30 Bangor Daily News.
The priest was the Rev. Roy Bourgeois, Louisiana native and Vietnam veteran, who spoke to several groups on a swing through Maine in late September. The taped speech he broadcast by boom-box from atop the tree was the last given by Archbishop Oscar Romero before his 1980 assassination in El Salvador. Rev. Bourgeois was convicted of criminal trespass and impersonating an officer for his untenable act of climbing a tree and waking the students from a sound sleep.
Alumnus Col. Julio Roberto Alpirez was acquitted of killing Devine by a military court on Sept. 28. Alpirez and Col. Mario Roberto Garcia Catalan, who was also acquitted, had been implicated in Devine's 1990 assassination, an incident "which the U.S. government cited in its decision to suspend military aid to Guatemala the following year," the AP reported.
The school in question is the U.S. Army School of the Americas which has been operating on U.S. soil (Ft. Benning, Ga.) since 1984, when it was kicked out of Panama. La Prensa, Panama's largest newspaper, had dubbed it "School of the Assassins."
Just so you'll know, $18.5 million of our tax dollars will be spent this year to "professionalize the military in Latin America," to train between 1,500 and 2,000 soldiers from 18 Latin American countries in such things as psychological interrogation, sniper techniques, counterinsurgency, and the like. A $30 million renovation project has just been completed. Your money and mine.
While some of those skills might be useful in limited situations within the structure of our country's Constitution and Bill of Rights, they play out very differently in other countries, especially when legal systems are corrupt or non-existent and the goals of the players with the guns are not those of the common man.
What moved Rev. Bourgeois, who had been banned from Bolivia in 1977 after reporting to Congress on human rights abuses orchestrated by that country's leader and SOA graduate, Gen. Hugo Banzer, was that so many Latin American killings were "being done by military we were arming and training."
"The relationship between the military and the poor is one of fear" in Latin America, Rev. Bourgeois said. "You don't look the military in the eye, because too many have heard that knock on the door in the middle of the night."
Lately, Rev. Bourgeois said, thanks to the dogged homework done on the 58,000 graduates the school has had since its inception in 1946, it seems the school is having a bit of a hard time keeping up its image.
La Lagartija/Info SOA, a publication out of Gilbert, Iowa, has a list available of over 300 human rights abusers who honed their skills at the school. Gen. Manuel Noriega is just one of them.
A Colombian non-governmental human rights coalition in 1992 released a list, available through La Lagartija, of more than 200 Colombian officers who have committed human rights abuses in the past 20 years. That report found that half or more of the officers cited in most of the cases had graduated from the School of the Americas.
A congressional hearing called by Rep. Joseph Moakley (D-Mass.) made the connection between the 1989 murder of six Jesuits, a housekeeper and her daughter, and the School of the Americas.
Rev. Bourgeois said the Aug. 9, 1993 issue of Newsweek had a two-page spread, detailing how the U.S. Army, in our name, is running what the magazine called a school for dictators. He reported Rep. Joe Kennedy II (D-Mass.) sponsored a bill last year to close the school. Rep. Martin Meehan (D-Mass.) got up in Congress and said that "if this school had an alumni meeting, it would bring together some of the worse thugs in Latin America." The vote was 175-217.
"Sen. Wellstone is with us on this issue," Rev. Bourgeois said to the group at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Bangor. Editorials critical of School of the Americas have appeared in Newsweek, New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Des Moines Register, San Antonio Express-News and Atlanta Constitution.
And, "what we're hearing is that there are a growing number of [U.S.] soldiers on base [at Ft. Benning], who have nothing to do with the school, who are saying this school is giving the Army a bad name."
"We are now living in a post-Cold War era," Rev. Bourgeois said, "but our relationship to Latin American countries has not changed. There has got to be a totally new relationship. These counterinsurgency techniques being taught who are the insurgents? Who they have always been the poor. There is no hope for the poor in Latin America at all as long as the military is entrenched and in power."
The U.S. Army School of the Americas is an expensive and unnecessary program in a time of tight money. It is foreign aid at its worst. It is an embarrassment to the U.S. Army.
It is contrary to our national values founded on human rights and governmental self-determination (see Declaration of Independence).
And it is perpetuating real violence in the world, in the name of a country (ours) which is only now realizing it might be a good idea to reduce make-believe violence on big and little screens (see Bob Dole's list of Democratic filmmakers).
No matter how you count, the U.S. Army School of the Americas is a violation of everything we stand for and should be closed immediately.