This past weekend saw the annual protest at Fort Benning, Georgia, home to the notorious School of the Americas, a/k/a the School for Terror (famous alumnae include Manuel Noriega). According to the New York Times, the number of protesters this year was far lower than a few years ago when Martin Cohen included Fort Benning in his disinformation book, No Holiday: 80 Places You Don’t Want To Visit. To help try to boost interest in the effort to end the School of the Americas, now renamed as the “Department of Defense Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation” (Blackwater and other criminal corporations aren’t the only ones who play that game), disinformation is pleased to bring you Martin’s advice on attending next November’s protest:
#28 No Holiday: Fort Benning, Georgia
Join the annual protest at the notorious School for Terror
How to get there:
Fly or take the train to Atlanta, Georgia, and rent a car and drive to Fort Benning, about 85 miles (137 kilometers) southwest. The Commandant’s door is always open to visitors:
We invite you come to our campus, meet our students and faculty, and see our programs in action. Our motto is “Libertad, Paz y Fraternidad,” which means Freedom, Peace, and Brotherhood. Together we will make a difference in the region and the world.
The crazy paving entrance and the pink stucco mansion of the main block look more appropriate to a college summer camp than the school for assassins and torture techniques that it really is.
What to see
Not that you can see that from outside. But at least every November at Fort Benning there is a protest outside one of the gates, attended in past years by over 10,000 people, some of them bearing crosses with names of civilian victims of Fort Benning’s graduates carefully inscribed on them.
Activists like the implausibly named Reverand Bourgeois, who frequently mounts a lonely vigil outside the gate, or Major Blair, help to organize protests throughout the year. Major Blair used to be one of the school’s instructors but then, as the Director of the School himself says of his graduates, with lots of people, “you are bound to get one or two bad apples.”
As one of the demonstrators explained to the local paper, the School for Terror is part of a wider US plan, no less than “the military arm of the World Bank in Latin America,” as she puts it tidily. “I am doing this not just for Latin American SOA [School of the Americas, then the name for the School for Terror] victims, but also for people working in sweat shops in Asia. I am really protesting US foreign policy world-wide.”
Naturally, the police have already arrested and charged her. The Reverend Bourgeois himself has spent much of the past six years in prison. But he says: “A real patriot is someone who appreciates the positive things about their country and the standard of living in their country, but also can criticize and make sacrifices for social change to make their country one to be proud of.”
The School of the Americas has a half-century of history as a training ground for some of Latin America’s most notorious war criminals, including Panama’s General Manuel Noriega, the many assassins of El Salvador (including those of ArchBishop Oscar Romero) and a junta of Guatemalan dictators accused of genocide. The curriculum includes training in different methods of beatings or executions and medical doctors offer instruction on torture techniques. What! Did the School really hand out torture manuals? Here, the school relies on the defense ably expressed by representative Colonel Glenn Weidner:
The fact is that there was an administrative error because they were already in Spanish and in use by another unit who had obtained clearance for those manuals to be used, and so they were not properly screened by our translation department, and by the people who brought them to the school in 89. They contain some passages which, if they’re taken out of context in some cases, and which in other cases if they were read literally, they could be construed to condone improper practices such as using fear, using blackmail, paying bounties for enemy dead and so on.
So that’s a yes, then. And what about all those massacres? The UN found unambiguous proof of the School’s role in the massacre of more than 900 people at El Mozote; the Trujillo “chainsaw massacre” of 100 civilians; not to mention several politically sensitive cases, like that of the execution of six Jesuit priests, the assassination of ArchBishop Romero and Bishop Juan Gerardi, and the brutal rape and murder of four US churchwomen.
School of Americas graduates have been implicated time and time again in the murders of many uncounted thousands of civilians, and a few hundred more famous people too, such as the ArchBishop and the Jesuit priests.
Faced with Congressional demands for its closure, the School of Americas changed its name to the genial sounding “Department of Defense Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation” and stayed open.
Col. Glenn again:
As Commandant, School of the Americas: I have to clarify that while we are very disturbed when someone does commit a human rights abuse, and who has passed through the school at some time in the past, it is a very small percentage of the total number of students.
Anyway, the new School has now got a “Human Rights option” included in the training, he added. After all, as outgoing Secretary of the Army Louis Caldera said at the closing ceremony for the School, “This school brought our nations closer together in a common quest for peace and prosperity in our own hemisphere. Every country in Latin America—save Cuba—is now governed by elected leaders accountable to their people.” Let us honor the graduates of the school, who have upheld American values and “served as a force for good!”
The Principal also had a message for those who accused the school of teaching torture and training dictators:
Let me say very clearly that any soldier in Latin America, who had even the most remote connection to the School of the Americas, who has ever committed a human rights violation, did so in spite of the training they received at the School of the Americas and not because of it.
Mind you, the school has produced at least eleven military dictators. Even as recently as April 2002, the Venezuelan Army Commander-in-Chief Efrain Vasquez and General Ramirez Poveda—both graduates of the SOA—were key players in an attempted coup against the democratically elected Venezuelan government. Although that could have been in spite of the training.
Low, but you might be arrested.
Learn about the other 79 badass places in No Holiday: 80 Places You Don’t Want To Visit.