Monday, November 21, 2005

School's still not out

This past weekend saw SOA Watch's annual protest against the School of the Americas--cleverly renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation--in Fort Benning, Georgia. Some 20,000 gathered this year--the largest group since the protests began in 1990--with 41 people arrested for trespassing on Fort Benning property. Those convicted of civil disobedience now face up to six months in prison for a first offense. Two elderly (think 70s and 80s) nuns have already served six-month terms for previous nonviolent protests.

That's right, six months for protesting an institution that trained torturers for the brutal right-wing Latin American regimes of the 1980s and early '90s, including the one in El Salvador, where Archbishop Oscar Romero was assassinated in 1980 and where in the same year an American Catholic lay missionary and three American religious sisters--Jean Donovan, Dorothy Kazel, Maura Clarke, and Ita Ford--were raped and murdered for their work with the poor. Investigations have tied School of the Americas "grads" to all of these, along with the murder of six Jesuits, their housekeeper, and her daughter in 1989. This is not to mention, of course, the tens of thousands of forgotten men, women, and children tortured, murdered and disappeared during that time.

Of course, it's hard to condemn former Latin American regimes for torture when our own country has similar abuses on its hands, from Abu Ghraib to the newly discovered prisons in Poland and Romania, where the CIA has been "interrogating" "detainees." And, as we have recently discovered, the new Iraqi government is learning quickly from our example.

Perhaps that's a reason why the SOA protest drew a record crowd this year. Now if we could just get more people to protest the human rights abuses being perpetrated in our names and with our tax dollars. If President Bush is looking to trim the budget, he should look no further than the SOA.


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