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English Comp. 1
8 October 1999
School of Assassins
Due to the incredible amounts of human rights violations committed by graduates of the School of the Americas as a direct effect of their training funded by U.S. tax dollars, the School of the Americas must be closed down. The school is a cold war dinosaur that needs to be brought to the attention of the American taxpaying public. The people of our nation need to be aware that every time they get a paycheck, they are contributing to the oppression and killing of the indigenous peoples of Latin America by their own leaders.
The School of Americas was formed in 1946 in Panama. It was originally formed so that the United States would have ties in Central America to keep Castro under control in Cuba. In 1984, the school moved to Fort Benning, Georgia. The students at the school are taught counterinsurgency tactics such as combat skills, sniper fire, military intelligence, commando tactics, and psychological operations. Recent revelations have shown that the school also actively teaches torture tactics. In September of 1996, the Pentagon, under intense social pressure, released SOA training manuals that were previously unavailable to the public. A group called the Latin America Working Group issued a translated copy of the manuals. The manuals recommended interrogation techniques like torture, execution, blackmail, and arresting the relatives of parties involved. They suggested the use of truth serums on prisoners to get them to answer questions. The manuals recommend the infiltration of work unions, political parties, youth groups, religious groups, and all other organizations subversive to the national government (Fact Sheet). The governments of these nations recognize anyone who promotes social change and betterment as a terrorist threat. “One manual describes 60’s activist Tom Hayden, currently a California State Senator, as ?one of the masters of terrorist planning.’ It is precisely this identification of activist for social change as terrorists that led death squads to kill thousands of religious leaders, students, union members and human rights activists” (Haugaard 15) These manuals and recommendations hardly seem to be in line with the democratic seed that the U.S. government is supposedly trying to sow in Latin America. In the 70’s when Nixon spyed on and infiltrated an opposing political party, he came up under impeachment chrges. This was a very serious ordeal, but the United States is promoting this behavior in other countries (Latin America Working Group). Our country that we believe is the noble protecter of the world is involved in some of the greatest massacres in the history of Latin America.
The soldiers are trained to fight insurgents, but what insurgents are left in the poverty-stricken culture of Latin America? The only insurgents now are the religious leaders and the poor people who want to take a stand for what should be theirs. The rich and powerful in Latin American nations want to keep their wealth and status. They don’t want to give the poor citizens of their nation anything. When the poor rise up to try and alter the position they’re in, the military rulers are ready to squash their efforts by any means necessary. There have been many cases in the last twenty years of massacres and assassinations of religious leaders whose only threat was that of the empowerment of the poor. The military accused the leaders as heads of guerilla movements and executed them.
A prime example of a religious leader who fought for the betterment of his people was Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador. He spoke out against the violence against and oppression of the poor. He had and seen enough and was taking a stand. He made a plea over a radio station which broadcast throughout Latin America asking the governments to stop the killing and oppression. The very next day, while performing mass, he was assassinated by a graduate of the SOA (”School of Assassins.” 2) Another example of martyrs slain by graduates of the SOA were three nuns and a layworker who were abducted, raped, and murdered in El Salvador on December 2, 1980. They were Ita Ford, Dorothy Kazel, Maura Clarke, and Jean Donovan. They were in El Salvador to work with the poor. These were four women. They were not a threat to the government except that they were attempting to elevate the poor. Recently the four soldiers who were imprisoned for the murders indicated that they were following orders from above. This means that the actual perpetrators were the upper echelon commanders that ordered the attack. It has come to the light that General Jose Guillermo Garcia and Colonel Carlos Eugenio Vides Cassanova, both graduates of the School of Americas, had organized an official cover up that made it seem as though the four soldiers had acted independently. Both of these men today live in Florida and have not been charged with the murders (Rohter 1). Yet another example of the brutality of SOA graduates is the slaying of six Jesuit leaders and their cook and her daughter on November 16, 1989. The Jesuits and the two other victims were on the campus of the University of Central America when 26 Salvadoran soldiers came onto the complex and murdered them execution style. The soldiers bashed out their brains and spread them next to the corpses as a final act of indignity. These men were there to educate the poor and the women were there simply to seek refuge from the fighting in the city they had fled. Of the 26 soldiers implicated in the massacre, 19 were trained with U.S. tax dollars at the School of Americas (Rochford 10)
Proponents of the school say that it is a viable way of stopping the drug trafficking problem. They believe that by training these soldiers, we are promoting democracy. However, as we will see later, one of the most infamous graduates of the SOA was one of the largest drug traffickers caught to date. Giving one group of people so much power over another group naturally leads to class separation which leads to struggle which leads to oppression. That is the main problem in Latin America. The distribution of wealth and resources is so limited to the upper ten percent.
Some of the more infamous graduates of the School of Americas include General Hernan Jose Rodriguez who protected and aided the Colombian paramilitary death squad responsible for 129 civilian deaths. He also commanded the soldiers who detained, tortured, gang raped, and executed human rights activist Yolanda Acevedo Carvejal (”School of Assassins.” 1) General Hector Gramajo who used genocide policies resulting in the murder torture and disappearance of hundreds of thousands of indigenous people in Guatemala was also found guilty of the rape and torture of Sister Diana Ortiz, another human rights activist, in U.S. civil court just six weeks prior to being the keynote speaker at the SOA graduation. (”School of Assassins.” 1) Perhaps the most well known of the SOA graduates is Manuel Noriega, who is now serving a 40 year sentence in U.S. prison for drug trafficking. (”School of Assassins.” 1) While these are just the more infamous, in a 1993 international human rights tribunal investigation of Colombia, of the 246 officers cited for war crimes and other human rights atrocities, 100 were graduates of the SOA (”United Nations Truth Commission Report” 22)
This is a subject that is very important to me and should be to every American who stands against violence and torture. We, the American Public whether knowingly or unknowingly, directly contribute to this treatment every time we pay federal taxes. The School of Americas draws 20 million dollars of our taxes every year. Every time you get a paycheck, it goes to the killing or disappearance of an innocent person just struggling to survive. Our taxes need to be spent on more worthwhile enterprises. Some schools in our nation desperately need assistance and funding to improve facilities and pay educators a living wage. And yet we continue to spend 18.4 million a year on the rape and murder of women and children (Fischer 185) By sitting idly by and allowing this to happen we are just as guilty as the actual perpetrators of these heinous actions.
The people of our nation need to wake up and try to look past their own noses for a few minutes and realize that this must stop. The School of the Americas will continue to exist funded by our dollars until we tell the government otherwise. This is a subject that if more people were aware of, would without a doubt be very easy to conclude. Most Americans, since our nation is supposedly built on freedom and justice, would find this an intolerable situation. Most people would not want to fund killing and rape. Awareness of this institution must be raised.
Americans need to write letters or call their congressman and tell them that these practices and the spending of our taxes on them must be brought to an immediate halt. You, yes you, can write to your congressman at U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, DC 20515 or your senator at U.S. Senate, Washington, DC, 20510. We cannot call ourselves a free nation if we condone and promote acts that violate human rights. We are all just as guilty by association as the actual murderers, rapists, and torturers if we continue to allow this to go on in our own back yard.
School of Assassins: U.S. Army School of the Americas. Columbus, GA: SOA Watch Group. 1998
United Nations Truth Commission Report 1993. New York: 1993.
Fischer, Mary. “Teaching Torture.” GQ June 1997:182-189,237-240.
Haugaard, Lisa. “Torture 101.” In These Times October14-27 1996:14-16.
Werner, Michael. Fact Sheet Concerning Training Manuals Containing Materials Inconsistent With U.S. Policy. Center For International Policy.
Rohter, Larry. “4 Salvadorians Say They Killed U.S. Nuns On Orders of Military.” New York Times 3 Apr. 1998 A1.
Latin America Working Group. “Report on Army Manuals.” 21 pp. Online. 4 Nov. 1997. firstname.lastname@example.org.
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