Tuesday, October 6, 2009

"If we can't close it by legislation we'll close it by attrition"

Maura Clarke, Ita Ford, Dorothy Kazel, and Jean Donavan. Remember these women? They were the nuns raped and murdered in El Salvador in 1980 by death squads supported by the US. (John D. Negroponte was US ambassador to Honduras at the time. Remember him? He was US ambassador to Iraq in 2004-2005, President G.W Bush's first intelligence czar, and, today, a research lecturer at a Yale 'think tank'. The more things change the more they stay the same.)

Father Roy Bourgeois was friend to the four women. When hard questions about their deaths went unanswered – other than the Honduran government's response that it was a “common crime” – Fr. Roy looked deeply into what had happened. He discovered that the large majority of high level military officers were trained at the School of the Americas located on the base at Ft. Benning, GA.

Initially established in Panama in 1946, SOA was kicked out of that country in 1984 under the terms of the Panama Canal Treaty. Over 59 years, SOA has trained over 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 a war against their own people. 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 refugee by those trained at SOA, often dubbed the School of Assassins.

In the 1980s, Fr. Roy and ten others decided it was time to shut down SOA. They began by carrying a boombox into a tree on the base and, at nightfall, blared out the voices of the victims of torture, beatings, and other mayhem conducted by trainees of the SOA.

That action has led to an annual pilgrimage to the gates of Ft. Benning. These days about 20,000 people join Fr. Roy to demand the closure of the SOA, in 2001 renamed the “Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.” Fr. Roy says, "If we can't close SOA by legislation we'll close it by attrition."

One member of Fr. Roy's team is Lisa Sullivan, a community organizer originally from Virginia, who has spent most of her life working in Venezuela. Lisa's story epitomizes those I love to air on Raising Sand Radio as it brings to a wider audience the every day goodness of people doing extraordinary things in big ways and and in small ways, and connects humanity through caring for our fellow man.
Listen to Lisa Sullivan on this week's radio show or get involved in School of the Americas Watch: soaw.org org.

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