|Terrorism, as a political tool, is abhorrent to all people of good will. Civilized nations have a moral obligation to eliminate the use of terror. We as a nation, due to our rhetoric of expounding the virtues of democracy, are held to a higher standard in ending the terrorism that is imported and exported.
The unjustifiable acts of Sept. 11 made us all familiar with the imported type, but how many of us are cognizant of the terror we export? Specifically we export terrorism to Latin America via the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHISC), formally known as the School of the Americas.
Located in Fort Benning, Ga., the WHISC, financed by U.S. taxpayers, has trained more than 60,000 Latin American soldiers in commando operations, psychological warfare and counter-insurgency techniques. The training manuals produced by the Pentagon, and made public through the Freedom of Information Act, advocate executions, torture, false arrest, blackmail, censorship, payment of bounty for murders, and other forms of physical abuse against enemies.
According to former CIA officer John Stockwell, terrorist tactics are central to the U.S. strategy in Central America. He states, “Encouraging techniques of raping women and executing men and children is a coordinated policy of the destabilization program.” The CIA’s own training manual for the Reagan Contra war in Nicaragua encouraged the assassination of “government officials and sympathizers.”
Hence, we should not be surprised to discover that:
- two of the three officers cited for the assassination of Archbishop Romero are graduates of the school;
- three of the four officers cited in the rape and murder of four Maryknoll nuns are graduates of the school;
- D’Aubuisson, founder of El Salvador’s death squads, is a graduate of the school;
- 10 of the 12 officers responsible in the massacre of 900 civilians in El Mozote are graduates of the school;
- 19 of the 26 officers cited in the murder of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her teenage daughter are graduates of the school;
- and the brutal and bloody military dictators that ruled Bolivia, Argentina, Guatemala, Panama, El Salvador and Honduras—just to name a few—are all graduates of the School.
A U.S. Congressional Task Force, headed by the late Rep. Joseph Moakley, concluded that those responsible for many of the government-led massacres in Latin America were trained by the U.S. Army at Fort Benning, Ga. Former Rep. Joseph Kennedy summarized the significance of the school’s U.S.-produced training manuals when he stated, “The Pentagon revealed [through these manuals] what activists opposed to the school have been alleging for years—that foreign military officers were taught to torture and murder to achieve their political objective.”
Probably the most damning indictment of the military school in Fort Benning appeared on its own official Web site a few years ago. They boasted, “Many of the [school’s] critics supported … Liberation Theology … in Latin America … which was defeated with the assistance of the U.S. Army.”
As a devoted Christian and an ordained evangelical Southern Baptist minister who follows the praxis of Liberation Theology, I am greatly concerned that our government boasts persecuting my religious belief system. You do not have to understand God the way I do, but I should have a right to worship God as I am led by God’s Spirit; and as Americans, we must all defend that right. This is basic to our freedoms. Something is terribly wrong when our own military celebrates the defeat of one of the ways Christianity is practiced and understood by the poor of the world.
A few years ago I met the then-Republican chair of the House Intelligence Committee to insist he support his colleagues on Capitol Hill in closing down this school that exports terrorism. Several bills came before Congress advocating closure, only to be defeated. Most recently in 2007, the McGovern/Lewis Amendment attempted to shut off funding for the school but failed by six votes. The effort to close the school was endorsed by the non-partisan Council on Hemispheric Affairs, which said the school represents a "black eye." The congressman I lobbied refused to support these bills. Why? According to him, we are teaching them democracy.
Democracy? Since when is democracy taught from the barrel of a gun? Besides, isn’t it a bit hypocritical, if not paternalistic, for us to assume that we can teach them democracy? Wasn’t it our armies that overthrew the democratically elected government of Abenz in Guatemala and installed a military dictatorship? Wasn’t it our CIA that overthrew the democratically elected Allende government in Chile in favor of a military dictatorship? When the democratically elected government of Chavez in Venezuela was overthrown a few years ago, wasn’t it the United States that solely recognized the military junta? Ironically, days after his arrest, he was returned to power.
How? All members of the Organization of American States, including the United States, signed a Democracy Charter requiring these nations to ensure democracy by refusing to recognize military coups. While the rest of Latin America held firm and created the necessary external pressure to force Venezuela to respect its democratic process, the United States was quick to support the coup, if not help initiate it. Maybe it is we who need to learn democracy from them.
Every year since 1990, an annual public demonstration orchestrated by School of the Americas Watch is held at Fort Benning, attracting tens of thousands of protesters. The protests occur on the November anniversary of the 1989 murders of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter in El Salvador. Again, according to a U.S. congressional panel, most of the murderers were graduates of the school.
I hope that a new Democratic-controlled Congress and a new presidency will put an end to all forms of terror. Closing down the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation is a step in the right direction. Failure to deal with our terrorist training camp will undermine our efforts in creating a secure world.
No doubt, some of you will find this article offensive. How dare I criticize the United States during its international campaign against terrorism? How inappropriate to question our own terrorist actions toward civilians in Latin American countries? Shouldn't we all simply stand united, no matter what?
I believe we must remove the beam from our own eye before attempting to remove the splinter from our neighbor’s eye. I believe that in order to make a positive impact on the world, we must live up to our national rhetoric by seeking to establish “justice for all.”
Besides, one can never support the repugnant and barbarous doctrine of “my country, right or wrong,” which is found only in the most primitive of tribes.
Miguel A. De La Torre is director of the Justice & Peace Institute and associate professor of social ethics at Iliff School of Theology in Denver.