For more than a dozen years protesters, led by Maryknoll Fr. Roy Bourgeois, have called for the closing of the School of the Americas (renamed the Western Hemispheric Institute for Security Cooperation).
The call to close the school is symbolic. Since 1946 -- when it was sited in Panama -- the SOA has taught both methods of torture and methods of wiping out political resistance to soldiers from dictatorships throughout Latin America.
The school was moved back to Fort Benning, Georgia in 1984 and renamed in 2001. The campaign to close the SOA gradually discovered the names of graduates linked to torture, murder and massacre, and actual pamphlets printed and distributed by the school illustrating torturous tools and body positions.
So, Congress changed the school’s name and installed a board of supervisors.
The Army’s big arguments for keeping the school open are that:
- It links the Pentagon to national militaries in Latin America;
- It teaches officers -- especially captains who are on the road to generalship -- not only military strategy, but also leadership and democratic values.
The Pentagon doesn’t advertize how much training time goes to teaching units how to use the weapons we give them, and it doesn’t track the efficacy of the courses on democracy that have been required in recent years.
Investigation of the SOA gives us a window on another two dozen training centers the Pentagon runs for foreign militaries -- a portion of what has become known as the militarization of diplomacy.
So now we have some test cases, not only in Egypt but also in Sudan, Tunesia and Algeria. Will the democratic values the Pentagon purports to teach rise to the top?
Of course these armies are the product of many factors and the Department of Defense has had much less influence in Algeria than in Egypt.
I certainly hope that the concept of civilian leadership of a professional military will prevail, but the School of the Americas is not the only instance of military training and practice gone wild.
We’d be surer of what we are teaching if we spent our money on nation-building through the Department of State.