Fighting the Cold War, fighting the drug war, protecting U.S. interests – it sells. Teaching torture and execution as counterinsurgency training – it doesn’t sell. The U.S. Army School of the Americas (SOA) is not a noble cause of the U.S. Army. It does not support democracy or counter the drug trade in Latin America. Dubbed the “School of Assassins” by many of those it supposedly protects, SOA has both proven its complicity in human rights abuses and outlived even its stated objectives.
The history of SOA graduates’ violence demands a U.S. response. President Clinton began this process with an unprecedented apology in Guatemala after the presentation of the United Nations Truth Commission Report in early March. Clinton apologized for U.S. support of military rulers during Guatemala’s 36-year bloody civil war. He did not, however, promise to close the School of the Americas, which directly trained many of the Guatemalan troops responsible for countless human rights violations.
U.S. politicians and military leaders should not reap the benefits of apology without translating U.S. responsibility into action. It is time for the United States to take the first step towards changing its attitude toward Latin America as an opportunist’s stomping ground. It is time to close the School of the Americas.
Supporters of the School cite the necessity for capable troops to maintain stability in Latin American nations. They claim that through this stability, democratic voices will find outlets and ears. Whether or not military troops can in fact promote such stability and democracy is not the question here. Even if they could, the troops trained at SOA boast a different record.
Two-thirds of the Salvadoran officers cited in the United Nations Truth Commission Report for human rights abuses are SOA graduates. More than half of the Colombian officers cited for human rights violations graduated from the School.
A large proportion of those cited as responsible for famous atrocities were also trained at SOA. Two of three responsible for the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero, ten of twelve cited for the massacre of 900 civilians at El Mozote and three of five cited in the rape and murder of four U.S. churchwomen, all attended SOA.
Is there really a connection? Supporters of the School claim that SOA trains troops to promote stability, and that some graduates simply misuse their training. Seven training manuals used until 1991, released under pressure in 1996, tell another story.
A New York Times article covered the release: “Americans can now read for themselves some of the noxious lessons the United States Army taught thousands of Latin Americans. [The SOA manuals] recommended interrogation techniques like torture, execution, blackmail and arresting the relatives of those being questioned.”
Legislation to cut SOA’s funding will force its closure. U.S. tax dollars fund the School through military appropriations. The Kennedy Bill in the House to stop funding in 1998 lost in a close vote of 212 to 201.
Each time a bill to close the SOA has come to a vote, the margin has narrowed. HR. 732 and S. 873, the first SOA bill proposed in the Senate, are the current legislative efforts to close the School.
It is time for the United States to endorse its apologies for the past with action in the present. It is time to close the School of the Americas.