School of the Americas: Human Rights or Not?
In December of 1981, the Atacatl Battalion, a counterinsurgency force of the Salvadoran military killed as many as 200 unarmed civilians in the village of El Mozote.
The Salvadoran commander of Atlacatl, Lt. Col. Domingo Monterrosa had trained at the U.S. Army's School of the Americas (SOA), then located in Panama. While no evidence came to light showing the SOA had trained Monterrosa in how to conduct massacres, it may not have trained him in preventing them, either.
Over the years since El Mozote, the SOA has incorporated human rights awareness training. But, continued association of its graduates with further atrocities in Latin America have resulted in a growing call for closure of the facility.
In Focus on the School of the Americas, Human Rights Guide Kevin Reed highlights accusations against the SOA and upcoming Washington, D.C. protests demanding closure of the Fort Benning, Georgia facility.
The mission of the SOA is to train officers, cadets, noncommissioned officers and government civilians from 22 Latin American countries to function in support of the United States' drug interdiction operations -- the War on Drugs.
While a major part of the SOA's training program now focuses on protecting human rights, protestors accuse the school of secretly teaching tactics of physical and mental torture.
The SOA stresses the importance of human rights training to its curriculum. The following excerpt is from the school's Human Rights Training Program.
"Instruction on International
Humanitarian Law (Law of Land Warfare) has always been provided to our students.
It was provided while the school was in Panama from 1947 to 1984, and it
continued to be provided after the school arrived at Fort Benning in 1985.
Instruction in each course mirrored that which was presented to U.S. soldiers in
counterpart courses in U.S. Army Schools." ... "Every student that
attends one of our courses at USARSA receives Human Rights instruction. At a
minimum, each USARSA student now receives an eight (8) hour block of instruction
on human rights."
-- US Army School of the Americas Human Rights Policy
Does the SOA teach the tactics of human rights violations? Here are some thinking points.
- Is "violating human rights" something that must be taught?
Throughout human history haven't torture, rape and murder always sort
of come naturally, especially in war?
- Students of the SOA receive primary training from the military branches of their home countries -- not the U.S. Army.
- On the other hand, by teaching a person how not to do a certain thing, are you not also at least exposing them to ways of doing that very thing? For example, in its human rights training, the SOA teaches a section focusing specifically on The My Lai Massacre: A Case Study -- a document that could almost be considered a step-by-step tutorial on intimidating, torturing and exterminating a civilian population. (Warning: It is also an extremely violent and graphic description of the My Lai incident.)
Organized protests calling for closure of the SOA are scheduled to begin Sun., April 2, 2000 outside the White House.
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