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End terrorism, start with US

by Marc Becker
October 2, 2001

Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.

- President George W. Bush, Address to a Joint Session of Congress and the American People, September 20, 2001

In recent years, the U.S. Army School of Americas (SOA) has come under intense scrutiny for its use of terror to achieve foreign policy objectives. In a pathetic attempt to dodge this growing criticism, in January the army renamed the school the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHISC). The mission of this school which is based in Fort Benning, Georgia, however, remains the same: to train Latin American soldiers in combat, counter-insurgency, and counter-narcotics.

The SOA has trained virtually the entire “who’s who” of brutal dictators who are responsible for many of Latin America’s worst human rights abuses. Among its nearly 60,000 graduates is Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega who was a CIA operative until he became “disposable” and the United States removed him in a 1989 invasion, killing thousands of civilians in the process.

SOA graduates led the September 11, 1973 military coup against Chile’s democratically elected government. They worked as heads of the secret police, operated concentration camps where political prisoners were tortured, and ran a “caravan of death” that rounded up opponents slit their bodies open and dumped them from helicopters over the Pacific Ocean. In 1976, SOA grads also assassinated former Chilean ambassador Orlando Letelier, blowing his car to bits on Embassy Row in Washington, D.C. Previous to this September 11, that event had the distinction of being the worst act of terrorism committed in this country’s capital, but the U.S. never showed much interest in finding or punishing the perpetrators.

The school also trained the leaders of the “dirty wars” in Argentina and Bolivia in the 1970s. Their systematic use of terror decimated popular movements and undermined democracy in those countries. The United States trained Hugo Banzar who sheltered Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie in Bolivia, promoted drug trafficking, and developed a plan for silencing religious dissent which became a blueprint for repression throughout Latin America.

The SOA trained Anastasio Somoza’s brutal National Guard in Nicaragua in the 1970s. The CIA developed a euphemistically entitled “Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual” that described coercive techniques including the systematic intimidation of the civilian population and the assassination of political leaders for use in its proxy war against Nicaragua’s democratically elected government.

In the 1980s, graduates participated in the worst human rights abuses during El Salvador’s civil war, including the massacre of 900 civilians at El Mozote and the summary execution of Archbishop Oscar Romero while he was saying mass on March 24, 1980. Another graduate was convicted this summer for the brutal murder of Guatemalan Bishop Juan Gerardi. Gerardi was killed in 1998 two days after releasing a report in which he linked the Guatemalan army to most of the atrocities committed during the country’s civil war.

In Colombia, SOA grads have been linked with kidnapings, murders of peace commissioners and other civilians, repression of press freedoms, participation in paramilitary death squads and brutal massacres, etc. More Colombian military officers have trained at the SOA than personnel from any other country, and the result has been one of the worst human rights records in the world.

Yes, let’s universally and permanently stop and defeat the use of terror wherever and however it is practiced, and let us begin right here at home by closing the U.S. Army School of the Americas. It would be the best moral example the United States could set for the rest of the world.

Americans are asking, why do they hate us? They hate what we see right here in this chamber – a democratically elected government. Their leaders are self-appointed.

- President George W. Bush, Address to a Joint Session of Congress and the American People, September 20, 2001

Let’s see. Bush lost the election but people who his father named to a high court appointed him president. Corporate contributions have a much larger influence in selecting governmental officials than popular will. The result is huge tax cuts for the filthy rich, and a paltry $300 for those of us struggling to get by in Kirksville. A democratically elected government? What a good idea, but I guess that is the subject of another essay.

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