Despite a recent name change, the military training school at Ft. Benning, Ga., formerly known as the Army School of the Americas, remains a festering sore in relations between the United States and Latin America.
Congress ought to close this training center for Latin American soldiers, now named the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. A bill sponsored by U.S. Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass., would do that.
The school was made infamous in 1996 with the release of a torture training manual used in the 1980s. It has schooled hundreds of soldiers who have committed documented human rights abuses in Latin America, including some of those involved in the murder of six Jesuit priests in 1989 in El Salvador. The links to such abuses continue, most notably in Colombia.
Supporters say the school has promoted peace. More accurately, it has trained soldiers to defend dictatorships against the poor and disenfranchised of their own countries. Graduates include Manuel Noriega, the former Panamanian dictator jailed for drug dealing.
The school changed its name in 2001, but its mission and curriculum remain essentially the same.
“It’s connected to terrorism, violence and atrocities,” said the Rev. Roy Bourgeois, a Vietnam veteran and Catholic priest who led the fight against the school after working with the poor in Bolivia.
For many Latin Americans, the school symbolizes what’s wrong with U.S. foreign policy. Keeping it open will further damage relations south of the border without advancing U.S. interests.
Congress should shut this Cold War relic down.
May 11, 2004 Editorial