School of Assassins, USA a/k/a SOA

School of Assassins, USA a/k/a SOA
Sun Nov 16 18:25:39 2003

School of Assassins, USA
Indymedia Bolivia, Bolivia - Nov 15, 2003
... Today, America's image as a defender of democracy and justice has been further
eroded by the School of the Americas (SOA), which trains Latin American and ...

Where terrorists come from
In Middle East, they're schooled by Al Qaeda -- in the Americas, they're schooled by us

Over the last two years, the Bush Administration has undertaken a radical revision of American foreign policy, sold to us, in the wake of 9/11, as a blueprint for the prevention of terrorism and the spread of democracy.

It's an ambitious and noble-sounding mission -- until one starts looking at the details of how it's being done, and what's been done in the past by the architects of the Bush vision. Over the next week, tens of thousands of activists will be converging on the Southeastern United States to protest and draw attention to the seamy underside of American foreign policy in action.

Tomorrow, I'll discuss the planned Nov. 19-21 protests in Miami at a negotiating meeting for the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas, a pact critics have labeled "NAFTA on steroids." At the very moment when popular movements throughout Latin America are forcing new policies and even overthrowing governments to reject neoliberalism, FTAA represents Washington's effort to cement such corporate-friendly policies as the non-negotiable bedrock of Latin America's economy.

But that's for tomorrow. First, it is impossible to understand the role of trade pacts like FTAA, IMF-style structural adjustment programs, and other neoliberal efforts to further enrich the rich and further impoverish the poor, without understanding the very non-democratic shoulders they ride on. And for this, we must go a bit farther north -- to Fort Benning, Georgia, which on Nov. 21-23 will be the site of an annual, massive protest and nonviolent civil disobedience. Its focus: the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, formerly known as the School of the Americas, more appropriately known as the School of the Assassins.

One of the successes of the Bush Administration's framing of the 9/11 attacks as an act of war is that it has further eroded our understanding of what constitutes terrorism. My dictionary defines "terrorism" in a fairly standard way:

"The systematic use of terror, esp. as a means of coercion."

But in America, that's not what most people understand the word "terrorism" to mean, and it's not how most politicians and media outlets use it. They use it like this:

"Any violent, politically motivated act by a terrorist, acting on his own behalf or that of a marginalized political or religious group, and carried out against innocent victims."

9/11, of course, is now viewed as the ultimate act of terror -- committed by adherents of a shadowy, fanatical international organization, in service of political goals (remember the three bin Laden specified?), and involving the deaths of thousands of innocents.

But more broadly, groups like Al-Qaeda are not the most common perpetrators of terrorism. Nation-states are. In the last century, countless despotic regimes have used organized terror as a way to coerce their citizens and maintain a stranglehold on political and economic power.

And for over two decades, the United States Army's School of the Americas has churned out graduates that, in turn, have fanned out across Latin America to spread terror. And many of their masters in Washington, particularly during the 1980s era of Central American death squads and Guatemalan genocide, have found new foreign policy jobs in the Bush Administration.

The Latin American soldiers and politicians who do their bidding are usually among the School of the America's 80,000 graduates. They include a dishonor roll of the hemisphere's worst, most brutal military and political leaders of recent times: dictators Manuel Noriega and Omar Torrijos of Panama, Leopoldo Galtieri and Roberto Viola of Argentina, Juan Velasco Alvarado of Peru, Guillermo Rodriguez of Ecuador, and Hugo Banzer Suarez of Bolivia. Lower-level SOA graduates have participated in human rights abuses that include the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero and the El Mozote Massacre of 900 civilians. Colombia's deadly right-wing paramilitaries are littered with SOA grads. They've been linked with torture, mass rape, and human rights atrocities in at least a dozen countries.

This -- not democracy -- has been the face of U.S. foreign policy in Latin America for decades, under Republicans and Democrats both. It's been nearly a decade now since SOA Watch, the umbrella group which organizes these annual protests (and quite a bit more the rest of the year), began to draw widespread public attention to the nature of the SOA. In 2000, a congressional bill to close the school failed by only ten votes; the resulting compromise led to the name change, but -- according to both critics and some defenders -- no real change in the school's curriculum or mission.

In the view of many in Latin America, the United States continues to be the biggest obstacle to democracy (let alone economic or social justice) in the hemisphere. Such policies aren't just old news -- they're as recent as Washington's encouragement for the now-deposed Bolivian regime's use of deadly force against unarmed civilian anti-privatization demonstrators last month. The fact that an institution like the SOA, er, Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, still exists, and still churns out graduates with an authoritarian Cold War mentality, puts the lie to George Bush's recent grandiose proclamations that American foreign policy is all about spreading the Good Political Word. Democracy has never come out of the end of a gun, or at the point of it.

The SOA, and next week's protests of it, are inextricably linked to free trade schemes like FTAA that are designed to ensure U.S. economic and political dominance of the hemisphere. SOA represents the not-so-veiled threat -- the coercion, aimed at innocents -- if reluctant Latin countries don't want to open themselves up to corporations from the North, don't want to privatize and turn their indigenous economies into sweatshops for the rich.

The good news is that across Latin America the public is rejecting that path -- and often forcing its governments to follow suit. SOA represents terror, and America's threat. The protests in Miami, and the pro-democracy movement behind them, represent hope. Tomorrow: the hope.
Take Action!

Close the School of the Americas

The School of the Americas (SOA) - in 2001 renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation - is a combat training school for Latin American soldiers located at Fort Benning, Georgia. During its 56 years of existence, the SOA has used U.S. tax dollars to train more than 60,000 Latin American soldiers in counterinsurgency techniques, sniper training, commando and psychological warfare, military intelligence and interrogation tactics. These graduates have consistently used their skills to wage war against their own country's civilians. Among those targeted by SOA graduates are educators, union organizers, religious workers, student leaders, and others who work for the rights of the poor. Hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans have been tortured, raped, assassinated, "disappeared," massacred, and forced into exile by those trained at this "School of Assassins."

Please use the link below to contact your congressperson and urge them to support HR 1258, a bill to close, investigate, and prevent another cosmetic remake of the SOA. It is vital that co-sponsors be added before Congress adjourns on November 21.

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