SOA

(This was originally written the weekend before Thanksgiving.)As I sit here in a van, using my friend’s laptop somewhere outside of Atlanta, I’m still processing – processing the experiences I’ve had these past 48 hours in Columbus, Georgia. I was part of the contingent from Lutheran Volunteer Corps who traveled to recruit and protest at Ft. Benning Military Base with the intention of closing the School of the Americas/Western Hemisphere Institute of Security Cooperation (SOA/WHINSEC). It’s a weekend long event, organized by SOA Watch, that began 18 years ago with ten people and this year again drew over 20,000 people for information sessions, documentary screenings, rallies, benefit concerts, and the Sunday morning vigil and celebration.The event brings together people from across the country and the world committed to peace and social justice through non-violence. While the reason everyone gets together is anything but a happy one, it is quite amazing to witness the community of people working for love and grace in a world so often full of hatred and antagonism. Hundreds of organizations are represented who are doing concrete work to rid our world of injustice – it’s an amazing experience to be in such a place.But why do so many pack themselves onto the small road leading up to a military base just across the Alabama border? In short, it’s because the SOA/WHINSEC is, quite literally, a School Of Assassins. It is a training post for Central and South American military men who have carried out some of the most violent and heinous massacres and human rights violations in history.This is what the SOA Watch website says: “The US Army School of Americas (SOA), based in Fort Benning, Georgia, trains Latin American security personnel in combat, counter-insurgency, and counter-narcotics. SOA graduates are responsible for some of the worst human rights abuses in Latin America. In 1996 the Pentagon was forced to release training manuals used at the school that advocated torture, extortion and execution. 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. Lower-level SOA graduates have participated in human rights abuses that include the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero and the El Mozote Massacre of 900 civilians. (See Grads in the News). “It’s so easy for us to become so in-twined with our own lives that we fail to remember the horrors that are happening for so many people around the world.  Not only is there horror happening in South and Central America, but Sudan, Palestine, Iraq, Burma, Pakistan, and so many other places.  It takes time and energy to become knowledgeable about so many issues, but I think it is important to try and become informed as much as possible.  Let us all strive for knowledge that we can then foster world peace. 

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