From the National Catholic Reporter…
I went to Fort Benning, Ga., over the weekend to join the call for the closing of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, also known as the School of the Americas.
On Friday, 275 of us vigiled outside the detention center in Lumpkin, Ga., in the poorest county in Georgia. Charlie King sang “Sing Mandela Free,” and I cried standing there. All of Friday and Saturday, there were workshops in the Columbus Convention and Trade Center. Some of the topics: nonviolent resistance, mining in Guatemala, the facts of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, ending torture, and grass-roots fundraising.
Sunday, about 2,000 of us processed in front of the gates of the school, carrying crosses and chanting the names of thousands of people killed by graduates of the school. After each name, we sang, “Presente.” I cried again listening to the names. Watch the beginning of the 2009 procession here; the chanting begins at 2 minutes, 45 seconds.
The institute teaches squadrons from Latin American military services how to use various weapons we have given them, how to function as officers, and how to develop and implement appropriate military strategies and tactics. It also requires attendance at a course on some variation on the theme of military support of democratic principles. In the past, when the institute was based in Panama, it taught torture as one of the appropriate civilian control strategies.
When then-Maryknoll priest Roy Bourgeois was working in Latin America 40 years ago, he heard rumors that there was a U.S. military base in Panama where Latin American soldiers were being taught to infiltrate and spy on civilian organizations and how to torture people. Roy became convinced of the truth of these rumors just as growing community outrage in the southern hemisphere led the school to move its operations from Panama to Fort Benning — far, the Pentagon hoped, from Latin demonstrations.