Thursday, October 16, 2008

Close the "School of the Americas"

I received the following letter from School of the Americas Watch:

Dear Kevin Craig,

School of the Americas Watch (SOA Watch) is writing to seek statements from candidates for the House of Representatives regarding their position on the United States Army School of the Americas (SOA), now renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC).

SOA Watch is a nonviolent, grassroots movement that works to stand in solidarity with the people of Latin America to close the SOA/WHINSEC. There are currently hundreds of SOA Watch groups in all 50 states, including your potential congressional district, and a list of numerous religious, labor, and human rights constituency groups with whom we work closely (list enclosed).

As you may know, hundreds of Representatives in the House have supported the closure and/or investigation of the SOA/ WHINSEC. As recently as May 2008, the House overwhelmingly approved language demanding that the school end its policy of secrecy and release the names of graduates and instructors to Congress and the public. The issue of investigating and closing the notorious SOA/ WHINSEC is one that will continue to gain momentum in the coming months.

Despite efforts to evade criticism by renaming the school and implementing cosmetic changes, the SOA/WHINSEC continues to be linked to human rights and drug trafficking crimes throughout Latin America. In August 2007, several Colombian military officials were arrested for aiding drug cartels, over half of which taught at, or took classes at, the school. This included two instructors of 2004 classes at WHINSEC. Latin America is walking away from the SOA/WHINSEC, citing the negative human rights message of the school; five countries including Argentina and Costa Rica have made public announcements they will no longer send military or civilian personnel. In three recent cases, known human rights abusers have been admitted to the school, despite documented instances of serious crimes.

The existence of the SOA/WHINSEC is part of a larger failure in U.S. foreign policy towards Latin America. The school is a combat training school that provides dangerous skills to countries with serious and current human rights problems. The proliferation of skills like counter-insurgency and psychological warfare in countries like Colombia, where impunity is offered to paramilitaries, only perpetuates the cycles of violence. Keeping the school open under any name sends a powerful anti-human rights message. Establishing reasonable living conditions for the people of Latin America and strengthening civil institutions will do more to stabilize the region than training repressive militaries.

The graduates of this institution have a long history of human rights violations. From the atrocities in El Salvador and Guatemala in the 1980's to recent violations in Colombia, graduates consistently appear in reports on human rights abuses in Latin America. Closing the SOA/ WHINSEC, whatever its name, would demonstrate that the United States has made a clean break from the tragic history of the school and its graduates.

We urge you to demonstrate your commitment to human rights in Latin America, and all over the world, by voicing your commitment to close and investigate the SOA/WHINSEC if you were to be elected to Congress next month. We invite you to issue a statement so that we may educate our networks in your area on your position in advance of this year's election.

Please see the enclosures for more information. We would be happy to meet with you if you have any questions.


School of the Americas Watch

I have added a new page to my website with my position on SOA:

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