Shut Down The School Of The Americas

By Jane Sammon

The logo of the School of the Americas (SOA) is a circle which as its very center rights groups, SOA Watch, “the flagship of Christopher Columbus”, with a darkly sketched cross in the middle of its sail. On the other half of the circle’s border is the motto: Uno Para Todos y Todos Para Uno. Lastly, and surrounding all of this, are the flags of various Latin America and Caribbean nations, plus a rather discreetly positioned Stars and Stripes. One might assume it is there to indicate our unobtrusive role in this tidy arrangement, as “equal among equals,” a “one for all and all for one” camaraderie.

Tax resistance

So why would anyone want to end such hemispheric bonhomie? For a growing number of people, this is rhetorical. Many, although certainly not enough, have heard the dreadful data about the School of the Americas, a death squad pit-stop which has brought untold suffering to the folks back home. The Latin American and Caribbean officers sent there have been the beneficiaries of pleasant p perks-baseball tickets and theme park passes among them, and all, as the saying goes, “at the expense of the tax-payer.” As advocates of tax resistance, many of us here couldn’t think of a better reason to stop paying.

Cited for abuses

Thousands have attended the School – first, when located in Panama from which it left in 1984 for Fort Benning, Georgia (in Panama, it was known as the Army Caribbean School at Fort Gulick; there, since 1946). Graduates have been trained in counterinsurgency tactics, that of ten used euphemism for torture physical and mental; in sniper techniques, notorious “low intensity conflict” methods, to name but a few items in the curricula. Now, of these thousands, a disproportionately high number have been cited for human right abuses, implicated in massacres like El Mozote, Las Hojas, San Sebastian, el Junquillo, forming majorities of the participating officers in each case. Then, there are the more infamous, higher profile bloodbaths – the assassination of Archbishops Oscar Romero in March 1980, the rapes and murders of four US church women nearly nine months later, and the massacre of the six Jesuits, their housekeeper and her daughter in 1989. All of this in El Salvador alone!

In Columbia, over 100 of 246 officers cited for war crimes are its graduates. In Peru, nine university students and a professor were killed in 1994; three of the top officers involved, according to reports, were SOA trained. To be honest, the list goes appallingly on, one country to the next. Finally, and certainly most famous among graduates is our former friend and CIA employee, Manuel Noriega.

School of Assassins

In the wanting day of Lent, I joined a fast sponsored by SAO Watch on the steps of the Capitol in Washington DC to highlight the School’s disturbing practices to hope for its closing. The House bill of Congressman Joseph seeking that end has not yet been passed. His suggestion for a “school of Democracy” in its stead, would, for many of us, be no solution, knowing as we do, (and we think Mr. Kennedy does also) that US involvement is dubious and against the grain of other nations’ self-determination. Yet, the goodwill of the fasters, the genuine interest and often shocked responses by passers-by and tourist, on their way into one of our country’s renowned landmarks, on hearing the cruel facts of the SAO, made for fruitful dialogue. The resolve of many to go back to their communities and pass the word on about this “School of the Assassins” was encouraging. There were a few remarks which I heard that discredited the information at hand. I was especially moved by the presence of young folks who joined the fast, from cities as far away as Chicago and Dallas. These are the men and women written off as deadbeat, selfish “Generation Xers’ misery, with little compassion for others’. Recent arrivals to this kind of vigil, they were, nevertheless, emboldened in their new found work, of speaking the truth in a public manner, drawing attention to the ethos of raw power.

Passionate testimony

On November 16, 1995, the sixth anniversary of the massacre of the Jesuits and their friends, a group of mostly older men and women re-enacted the even on the ground of the SAO. Fr. Roy Bourgeois and companions, including 74-year-old Ursuline Sister Claire O’ Maria, from New Rochelle, NY, were sentenced to federal prison for terms ranging from two to six months. Since Fr. Roy has been before Judge J, Robert Elliot on two previous occasions, he received the longest sentenced. But, in a phone conversation a few days later, his good spirit was intact, his joy, irrepressible. He felt that the judge, whose animus toward those doing this sort of demonstrating is well-known, had changed; that his heart was touched, particularly by the clear and passionate testimonies of Sr. Claire and, mother of eight Jo Anne Lingle. It is said that Fr. William Bichsel, 67, sentenced to four months, invited Judge Elliot to join them some day, in getting the SAO closed. Young and old alike, are all in need of conversion, in bearing witness to the truth.

Salamat sa The Catholic Worker