Thousands of people will descend on the School of the Americas (now renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation) headquarters in Fort Benning, Georgia this month to protest the U.S. military program that trains Latin American soldiers in combat, counterinsurgency and counter-narcotics and whose graduates, critics say, are responsible for some of the worst human rights abuses in Latin America.
Amid a dramatic rise in attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq, the Bush administration has stressed a rapid "Iraqification" of the security situation in recent weeks.
Disregarding new calls from Capitol Hill for additional U.S. troops to be deployed, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said that over 100,000 Iraqi forces have been trained to provide security in Iraq and that the number will double by next September.
Today we take a look at a U.S. training facility that has been training foreign soldiers for over half a century: The notorious School of the Americas.
Initially established in Panama in 1946, the SOA is a U.S. combat training school for Latin American soldiers. In 1984 it was kicked out of Panama and is now located at Fort Benning, Georgia.
At the SOA, Latin American soldiers are trained in counterinsurgency techniques, sniper training, commando and psychological warfare, military intelligence and interrogation tactics. Graduates of the SOA are responsible for some of the worst human rights abuses in Latin America.
Among the SOA’s nearly 60,000 graduates are notorious dictators Manuel Noriega and Omar Torrijos of Panama, Leopoldo Galtieri and Roberto Viola of Argentina, Juan Velasco Alvarado of Peru, Guillermo Rodriguez of Ecuador, and Hugo Banzer Suarez of Bolivia.
Hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans have been tortured, raped, assassinated, "disappeared," massacred, and forced into refugee by those trained at the SOA, frequently dubbed the "School of Assassins."
In January, 2001, the House defeated a bi-partisan amendment to close the SOA and conduct a congressional investigation by a narrow ten vote margin. Instead, the SOA was renamed to become the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHISC).
In November last year, close to ten thousand people descended on Fort Benning, Georgia to protest the SOA. The nonviolent direct action will repeat this year on November 21-23.
- John Smihula, director of "Hidden in Plain Sight". He is an English instructor at the University of Nevada, Reno, where he teaches literature, composition and film.
- Andrés Thomas Conteris, human rights activist and Co-Producer of "Hidden in Plain Sight." He has promoted human rights throughout Latin America for 25 years. In January of 2001 he was presented with an award by human rights organizations in Honduras for his advocacy work. He is currently co-producing a documentary about the U.S. bombing of Vieques.
- Hidden in Plain Sight — Excerpt from a documentary about the School of the Americas.