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Issue Date:  December 7, 2007

SOA protest as relevant as ever

Some would say time and reality have passed by the School of the Americas protest, held annually outside Fort Benning, Ga. The name of the school has been changed to the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. Latin America is no longer dotted with hot wars in which SOA-trained officers oversee massacres, assassinations and death squads.

So the questions in an auditorium at the new WHINSEC (see story) can sound dated, ill-informed, even rude. The current batch of officers easily answer that they don’t teach interrogation techniques and that they emphasize human rights.

If, indeed, observance of human rights has become an integral part of the curriculum, it is in no small way a result of the attention that SOA Watch founder, Maryknoll Fr. Roy Bourgeois, has focused on past practices at Fort Benning.

Those in charge at WHINSEC can claim that what happened decades ago has nothing to do with today’s institute, but that is disingenuous. For WHINSEC is the inheritor of an amply documented tradition that is intimately tied to gross, extensive and persistent human rights abuses that occurred throughout Latin America. The disparities between who we say we are as a nation and what the old School of the Americas produced and endorsed can’t be dismissed with a name change.

How can we posture with indignation today over the mass graves of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and say nothing, demand no justice, of those responsible for the mass graves in rural Guatemala?

How can we express our disgust with the massacres of Kurds when we say nothing of the massacres in Rio Sumpul and El Mozote, El Salvador, or with genocide of Indians in the Guatemalan countryside, all overseen by SOA graduates?

How can we call for justice in international circles when we refuse to act against such bloody figures as former Guatemalan general and president Efraín Rios-Montt or the late, notorious Roberto D’Aubisson, overseer of Salvadoran death squads, both graduates of the old SOA?

How can we pretend to the moral high ground when we know that torture manuals were once part of the school’s curriculum?

The combined School of the Americas protest and Ignatian Teach-In are as relevant as ever. They achieve out of a religious context what our civil institutions cannot: They remember, and thus hold us all accountable for acts done in our name, and they point to the future by exploring an ever-expanding number of social justice issues.

National Catholic Reporter, December 7, 2007

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