This November (16th and 17th) the InterReligious Task Force on Central America and Colombia will be traveling—with 50 of our closest friends—to Fort Benning Georgia. Those of you who know IRTF well will know that we have been speaking out against the practices taking place at Ft. Benning, but for those who are less familiar, let me fill you in.
Ft. Benning (named for a Confederate general during the Civil War, yikes) houses the Maneuver Center of Excellence, a U.S. Army Infantry and Armor training post as well the site of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) previously known as the School of the Americas (SOA). It is also known by us in the movement as SOA, School of the Assassins.
This training base, established initially in the Panama Canal Zone in 1946 and moved to its current location along the Georgia-Alabama border in 1984 once it was expelled from Panama, specializes in the training of Latin American military and police forces, claiming hemispheric solidarity and cooperation. Originally the SOA had the Cold War goal of teaching effective “anti-communist” counter-insurgency and as the conflicts in these incredibly complicated political climates have evolved and shifted, so has the programming at SOA/WHINSEC.
SOA Watch, IRTF's partner in the movement to end US militarization of Latin America, was formed in the early 1990s and continues to monitor the abuses committed by security personnel (soldiers and police) trained by the US. Together, we watch.
SOA/WHINSEC has been responsible, though not held responsible, for the training of militarized squads that have gone on to commit, undergo trial proceedings for, and receive punishment for war crimes, human rights violations, and crimes against humanity. Graduates of the program are responsible for:
- 1980- the rape and murder of four U.S. women who were serving as missionaries in El Salvador,
- 1980- the public assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador,
- 1981- el Mozote massacre by the SOA-trained Atlacatl battalion, which left over 500 unarmed civilians dead in El Salvador,
- 1989- the massacre of 6 Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her daughter at the Central American University (the 30th anniversary of which we are commemorating at this year’s gathering)
- TODAY- the oppression, arrest, and murder of indigenous communities and organizers in Guatemala,
- TODAY- the oppression, arrest, and murder of peasant and Campesino communities in Colombia,
- TODAY- the oppression, arrest, and murder of Resistance Movement leaders in Honduras,
- Many, many more.
In the past 2 months, WHINSEC has announced that they plan to add 50 additional buildings and extend their programming to include “hyper-realistic” training in “urban warfare” tactics based on residential and commercial zones in Chicago and Arizona. Additionally, they announced the possibility that they may utilize the base for immigrant detention. I for one am horrified at the possibilities that lie at the intersection of these two programs being introduced at the same time.
If you share in my horror I urge you to attend the SOA Watch Commemorative Convergence which is taking place at Fort Benning, GA on November 16th and 17th. IRTF will be taking a delegation, coordinating transportation and accommodation. All you have to do is apply (hopefully invite some friends to do so as well) pay the $250 trip fee (scholarship information available upon request), and hop on our very comfy bus down to Georgia.