20,000 protest School of the Americas

On Nov. 19 and 20, some 19,000 people gathered outside the gates of Fort Benning, Georgia to demand a dramatic shift in US foreign policy and the closure of the US Defense Department’s Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), formerly called the US Army School of the Americas (SOA), a combat- training school for Latin American soldiers. The protest, organized by SOA Watch, is held each November at Fort Benning to commemorate the 1989 murders in El Salvador of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter; some of the killers were SOA graduates. Last year 16,000 people attended. Organizers cited reports of torture by US soldiers and the ongoing war on Iraq as motivating factors for this year’s record turnout.

The gathering culminated on Nov. 20 with a symbolic funeral procession to the gates of Fort Benning, led by torture survivors from Latin America. “This Administration is publicly denying the use of torture by US agencies while simultaneously pressing to allow it,” said Patricia Isasa, an Argentine human rights activist and torture survivor who spoke at the rally. “The current discourse on torture is seen by many Latin Americans in the context of a legacy of US disregard for human rights.”

At least 41 people were arrested in acts of nonviolent civil disobedience, many risking 3-6 months in federal prison for crossing a 10-foot barbed-wire fence to enter the base. Since protests against the SOA began in November 1990, 180 people have served prison sentences for civil disobedience.

Earlier this year Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) introduced HR 1217, a bill to suspend operations at WHINSEC and to investigate the development and use of training manuals used at the school that advocated torture, extortion and execution. The “torture manuals” made headlines when first exposed in 1996, yet no independent investigation has ever been conducted. The bill currently has bipartisan support from 123 co-sponsors. (US Newswire, Nov. 20 from SOA Watch; AP , Nov. 20)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Nov. 20

See also WW4 REPORT #95, and our recent post on the current grisly activities of SOA graduates in Colombia.