The US has been training terrorists at a camp in Georgia for years

The US has been training terrorists at a camp in Georgia for years - 
and it's still at it,1361,583254,00.html

George Monbiot
Tuesday October 30, 2001
The Guardian

"If any government sponsors the outlaws and killers of innocents," 
George Bush announced on the day he began bombing Afghanistan, "they have 
become outlaws and murderers themselves. And they will take that lonely path 
at their own peril." I'm glad he said "any government", as there's one 
which, though it has yet to be identified as a sponsor of terrorism, requires 
his urgent attention.

For the past 55 years it has been running a terrorist training camp, 
whose victims massively outnumber the people killed by the attack on New 
York, the embassy bombings and the other atrocities laid, rightly or wrongly, at
al-Qaida's door. The camp is called the Western Hemisphere Institute 
for Security Cooperation, or Whisc. It is based in Fort Benning, Georgia, 
and it is funded by Mr Bush's government.

Until January this year, Whisc was called the "School of the Americas", 
or SOA. Since 1946, SOA has trained more than 60,000 Latin American 
soldiers and policemen. Among its graduates are many of the continent's most
notorious torturers, mass murderers, dictators and state terrorists. As
hundreds of pages of documentation compiled by the pressure group SOA 
Watch show, Latin America has been ripped apart by its alumni.

In June this year, Colonel Byron Lima Estrada, once a student at the 
school, was convicted in Guatemala City of murdering Bishop Juan Gerardi in 
1998. Gerardi was killed because he had helped to write a report on the 
atrocities committed by Guatemala's D-2, the military intelligence agency run by 
Lima Estrada with the help of two other SOA graduates. D-2 coordinated the
"anti-insurgency" campaign which obliterated 448 Mayan Indian villages, 
and murdered tens of thousands of their people. Forty per cent of the 
cabinet ministers who served the genocidal regimes of Lucas Garcia, Rios Montt 
and Mejia Victores studied at the School of the Americas.

In 1993, the United Nations truth commission on El Salvador named the 
army officers who had committed the worst atrocities of the civil war. 
Two-thirds of them had been trained at the School of the Americas. Among them were
Roberto D'Aubuisson, the leader of El Salvador's death squads; the men 
who killed Archbishop Oscar Romero; and 19 of the 26 soldiers who murdered 
the Jesuit priests in 1989. In Chile, the school's graduates ran both 
Augusto Pinochet's secret police and his three principal concentration camps. 
One of them helped to murder Orlando Letelier and Ronni Moffit in Washington 
DC in 1976.

Argentina's dictators Roberto Viola and Leopoldo Galtieri, Panama's 
Manuel Noriega and Omar Torrijos, Peru's Juan Velasco Alvarado and Ecuador's
Guillermo Rodriguez all benefited from the school's instruction. So did 
the leader of the Grupo Colina death squad in Fujimori's Peru; four of the 
five officers who ran the infamous Battalion 3-16 in Honduras (which 
controlled the death squads there in the 1980s) and the commander responsible for 
the 1994 Ocosingo massacre in Mexico.

All this, the school's defenders insist, is ancient history. But SOA
graduates are also involved in the dirty war now being waged, with US
support, in Colombia. In 1999 the US State Department's report on human
rights named two SOA graduates as the murderers of the peace 
commissioner, Alex Lopera. Last year, Human Rights Watch revealed that seven former 
pupils are running paramilitary groups there and have commissioned 
kidnappings, disappearances, murders and massacres. In February this year an SOA 
graduate in Colombia was convicted of complicity in the torture and killing of 
30 peasants by paramilitaries. The school is now drawing more of its 
students from Colombia than from any other country.

The FBI defines terrorism as "violent acts... intended to intimidate or
coerce a civilian population, influence the policy of a government, or
affect the conduct of a government", which is a precise description of 
the activities of SOA's graduates. But how can we be sure that their alma 
mater has had any part in this? Well, in 1996, the US government was forced 
to release seven of the school's training manuals. Among other top tips 
for terrorists, they recommended blackmail, torture, execution and the 
arrest of witnesses' relatives.

Last year, partly as a result of the campaign run by SOA Watch, several 
US congressmen tried to shut the school down. They were defeated by 10 
votes. Instead, the House of Representatives voted to close it and then 
immediately reopen it under a different name. So, just as Windscale turned into
Sellafield in the hope of parrying public memory, the School of the 
Americas washed its hands of the past by renaming itself Whisc. As the school's
Colonel Mark Morgan informed the Department of Defense just before the 
vote in Congress: "Some of your bosses have told us that they can't support
anything with the name 'School of the Americas' on it. Our proposal
addresses this concern. It changes the name." Paul Coverdell, the 
Georgia senator who had fought to save the school, told the papers that the 
changes were "basically cosmetic".

But visit Whisc's website and you'll see that the School of the 
Americas has been all but excised from the record. Even the page marked "History" 
fails to mention it. Whisc's courses, it tells us, "cover a broad spectrum of
relevant areas, such as operational planning for peace operations; 
disaster relief; civil-military operations; tactical planning and execution of
counter drug operations".

Several pages describe its human rights initiatives. But, though they
account for almost the entire training programme, combat and commando
techniques, counter-insurgency and interrogation aren't mentioned. Nor 
is the fact that Whisc's "peace" and "human rights" options were also 
offered by SOA in the hope of appeasing Congress and preserving its budget: but
hardly any of the students chose to take them.

We can't expect this terrorist training camp to reform itself: after 
all, it refuses even to acknowledge that it has a past, let alone to learn from 
it. So, given that the evidence linking the school to continuing atrocities 
in Latin America is rather stronger than the evidence linking the al-Qaida
training camps to the attack on New York, what should we do about the
"evil-doers" in Fort Benning, Georgia?

Well, we could urge our governments to apply full diplomatic pressure, 
and to seek the extradition of the school's commanders for trial on charges 
of complicity in crimes against humanity. Alternatively, we could demand 
that our governments attack the United States, bombing its military
installations, cities and airports in the hope of overthrowing its 
unelected government and replacing it with a new administration overseen by the 
UN. In case this proposal proves unpopular with the American people, we could 
win their hearts and minds by dropping naan bread and dried curry in 
plastic bags stamped with the Afghan flag.

You object that this prescription is ridiculous, and I agree. But try 
as I might, I cannot see the moral difference between this course of action 
and the war now being waged in Afghanistan.


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