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22,000 Show Up to Protest U.S. Torture School

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Every November, activists gather outside Fort Benning in Georgia to protest the U.S. military-run torture school formerly known as the School of the Americas (SOA).

This year, the vigil took place over the weekend of November 17-19, and the size of the crowd was estimated at 22,000!

Good for them! Each year the number of protesters increases. Hopefully someday their voices will be heard.

Changing its name doesn't change the fact that the school (now known as the "Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation", or WHINSEC) is still using our tax dollars to train Latin American death squads in the fine art of torture. At a recent Amnesty International conference, I actually got to meet a Salvadoran victim of torture by the U.S.-trained death squads of the 1980s. Believe me, this is not how our tax dollars should be spent.

Amnesty International estimates that the WHINSEC-SOA has trained hundreds of Latin American officers who were later implicated in human rights violations.

In 1996, the U.S. Department of Defense disclosed evidence that the school had used manuals from 1982 to 1991 that advocated torture, blackmail, beatings, and executions. While some curriculum changes have since been implemented at this training institute, no one has ever been held accountable for the unlawful training manuals or for the behavior of SOA graduates.

We're waiting.

In a 2002 report, Amnesty International called for an independent commission of inquiry to investigate past activities of SOA and its graduates, and for the school to be suspended pending publication of its findings.

We're still waiting.

Meantime, in order to ensure that reforms at the school are not just cosmetic, Amnesty's same report called for continued monitoring of the school, including review of its courses and training manuals by the Secretary of Defense. It also asked Congress to require the Department of Defense to assess and report annually on the school's progress in integrating human rights and rule of law education into military training.

We're still waiting.

WHINSEC-SOA is only one small part of a vast and complex network of U.S. programs for training foreign military and police forces that is often shrouded in secrecy. Currently, approximately 275 known U.S. military schools and installations in the U.S. provide such training.

But by closing the WHINSEC-SOA, we can take an important step towards becoming a nation for which human rights is not just a sound bite.

For more info about the vigil, check out the SOA Watch website at

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Mary Shaw is a Philadelphia-based writer and activist, with a focus on politics, human rights, and social justice. She is a former Philadelphia Area Coordinator for the Nobel-Prize-winning human rights group Amnesty International, and her views (more...)
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