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Backyard terrorism The US has been training terrorists at a camp in Georgia for years - and it's still at it George Monbiot Tuesday October 30, 2001 The Guardian "If any government sponsors the outlaws and killers of innocents," George Bush announced on the day he began bombing Afghanistan, "they have become outlaws and murderers themselves. And they will take that lonely path at their own peril." I'm glad he said "any government", as there's one which, though it has yet to be identified as a sponsor of terrorism, requires his urgent attention. For the past 55 years it has been running a terrorist training camp, whose victims massively outnumber the people killed by the attack on New York, the embassy bombings and the other atrocities laid, rightly or wrongly, at al-Qaida's door. The camp is called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, or Whisc. It is based in Fort Benning, Georgia, and it is funded by Mr Bush's government. Until January this year, Whisc was called the "School of the Americas", or SOA. Since 1946, SOA has trained more than 60,000 Latin American soldiers and policemen. Among its graduates are many of the continent's most notorious torturers, mass murderers, dictators and state terrorists. As hundreds of pages of documentation compiled by the pressure group SOA Watch show, Latin America has been ripped apart by its alumni. In June this year, Colonel Byron Lima Estrada, once a student at the school, was convicted in Guatemala City of murdering Bishop Juan Gerardi in 1998. Gerardi was killed because he had helped to write a report on the atrocities committed by Guatemala's D-2, the military intelligence agency run by Lima Estrada with the help of two other SOA graduates. D-2 coordinated the "anti-insurgency" campaign which obliterated 448 Mayan Indian villages, and murdered tens of thousands of their people. Forty per cent of the cabinet ministers who served the genocidal regimes of Lucas Garcia, Rios Montt and Mejia Victores studied at the School of the Americas. In 1993, the United Nations truth commission on El Salvador named the army officers who had committed the worst atrocities of the civil war. Two-thirds of them had been trained at the School of the Americas. Among them were Roberto D'Aubuisson, the leader of El Salvador's death squads; the men who killed Archbishop Oscar Romero; and 19 of the 26 soldiers who murdered the Jesuit priests in 1989. In Chile, the school's graduates ran both Augusto Pinochet's secret police and his three principal concentration camps. One of them helped to murder Orlando Letelier and Ronni Moffit in Washington DC in 1976. Argentina's dictators Roberto Viola and Leopoldo Galtieri, Panama's Manuel Noriega and Omar Torrijos, Peru's Juan Velasco Alvarado and Ecuador's Guillermo Rodriguez all benefited from the school's instruction. So did the leader of the Grupo Colina death squad in Fujimori's Peru; four of the five officers who ran the infamous Battalion 3-16 in Honduras (which controlled the death squads there in the 1980s) and the commander responsible for the 1994 Ocosingo massacre in Mexico. All this, the school's defenders insist, is ancient history. But SOA graduates are also involved in the dirty war now being waged, with US support, in Colombia. In 1999 the US State Department's report on human rights named two SOA graduates as the murderers of the peace commissioner, Alex Lopera. Last year, Human Rights Watch revealed that seven former pupils are running paramilitary groups there and have commissioned kidnappings, disappearances, murders and massacres. In February this year an SOA graduate in Colombia was convicted of complicity in the torture and killing of 30 peasants by paramilitaries. The school is now drawing more of its students from Colombia than from any other country. The FBI defines terrorism as "violent acts... intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population, influence the policy of a government, or affect the conduct of a government", which is a precise description of the activities of SOA's graduates. But how can we be sure that their alma mater has had any part in this? Well, in 1996, the US government was forced to release seven of the school's training manuals. Among other top tips for terrorists, they recommended blackmail, torture, execution and the arrest of witnesses' relatives. Last year, partly as a result of the campaign run by SOA Watch, several US congressmen tried to shut the school down. They were defeated by 10 votes. Instead, the House of Representatives voted to close it and then immediately reopen it under a different name. So, just as Windscale turned into Sellafield in the hope of parrying public memory, the School of the Americas washed its hands of the past by renaming itself Whisc. As the school's Colonel Mark Morgan informed the Department of Defense just before the vote in Congress: "Some of your bosses have told us that they can't support anything with the name 'School of the Americas' on it. Our proposal addresses this concern. It changes the name." Paul Coverdell, the Georgia senator who had fought to save the school, told the papers that the changes were "basically cosmetic". But visit Whisc's website and you'll see that the School of the Americas has been all but excised from the record. Even the page marked "History" fails to mention it. Whisc's courses, it tells us, "cover a broad spectrum of relevant areas, such as operational planning for peace operations; disaster relief; civil-military operations; tactical planning and execution of counter drug operations". Several pages describe its human rights initiatives. But, though they account for almost the entire training programme, combat and commando techniques, counter-insurgency and interrogation aren't mentioned. Nor is the fact that Whisc's "peace" and "human rights" options were also offered by SOA in the hope of appeasing Congress and preserving its budget: but hardly any of the students chose to take them. We can't expect this terrorist training camp to reform itself: after all, it refuses even to acknowledge that it has a past, let alone to learn from it. So, given that the evidence linking the school to continuing atrocities in Latin America is rather stronger than the evidence linking the al-Qaida training camps to the attack on New York, what should we do about the "evil-doers" in Fort Benning, Georgia? Well, we could urge our governments to apply full diplomatic pressure, and to seek the extradition of the school's commanders for trial on charges of complicity in crimes against humanity. Alternatively, we could demand that our governments attack the United States, bombing its military installations, cities and airports in the hope of overthrowing its unelected government and replacing it with a new administration overseen by the UN. In case this proposal proves unpopular with the American people, we could win their hearts and minds by dropping naan bread and dried curry in plastic bags stamped with the Afghan flag. You object that this prescription is ridiculous, and I agree. But try as I might, I cannot see the moral difference between this course of action and the war now being waged in Afghanistan. www.monbiot.com
-- clivus (email@example.com), October 30, 2001
Ben Franklin once said something to the effect of, "Rebellion is always legal in the first person, as in, 'our rebellion.' It's only in the third person, 'their rebellion,' that it becomes illegal."
I suppose it's much the same with terrorism. It's OK if we are doing it; it's only evil when they do it. Considering the number of my co-workers who want to lower themselves to being just like the 9/11 attackers, I guess the attitude is widespread.
-- L. Hunter Cassells (firstname.lastname@example.org), October 30, 2001.
I don't believe a word on any subject coming out of the far left-leaning, commie Guardian.
-- Chance (email@example.com), October 30, 2001.
The Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation has been a favorite target of anti-US Policy pundits for more than 30 years. Just run a search on the topic and you'll be surprised what you find.
Of course, there is actually reason for it. The Instititue deserved its' bad reputation when it was earned in the mid-70's, because it trained Latin American servicemen in torture techniques, and a wide range of other "nasty" topics. But, the place was "cleaned up" years ago, during the Carter and Regan administrations!!!
Look at the timing of the incidents charged in the Guardian's story. No "new" graduates are cited since the early 80's. The Guardian probably didn't even have to do any original research on this story - it sounds like the "usual suspects" material has just been rehashed again... Of course, the age of the problem hasn't stopped people from trying to shut it down.
-- Rich Marsh (firstname.lastname@example.org), October 31, 2001.
"Well, in 1996, the US government was forced to release seven of the school's training manuals. Among other top tips for terrorists, they recommended blackmail, torture, execution and the arrest of witnesses' relatives. Last year, partly as a result of the campaign run by SOA Watch, several US congressmen tried to shut the school down."
When do you say it was 'cleaned up'?
-- clivus (email@example.com), October 31, 2001.
Hmmmm..... You said...
"Well, in 1996, the US government was forced to release seven of the school's training manuals. Among other top tips for terrorists, they recommended blackmail, torture, execution and the arrest of witnesses' relatives. Last year, partly as a result of the campaign run by SOA Watch, several US congressmen tried to shut the school down.
When do you say it was 'cleaned up'? "
Did the people who fed you the story point out that those manuals that they were "forced to release" were of two types, and that further, the Government had good and sufficient reasons for not wanting them to be made public.?
1) The first kind were the actual manuals of the "bad old days" classes. These were the 30-year old manuals. The information on how to do these things is still valid - torture still works the same way. Putting the information into the public domain where anyone can get it - is not a morally sound decision. If it was bad to teach it 30 years ago, then it is just as bad to enable others to learn how to do it today.
2) The more recentlty prepared manuals are designed to teach tactics used by enemies of Latin American governments, to representatives of those governments. It teaches both counter-terrorism and how to track down criminals (even those within a government), who are practicing terrorism / assisination / torture / destablizing governments, etc... As a result, these manuals contain a great deal of information about how these things are actually done. They also teach how to detect and defeat them. But again, that information can be help people learn how to perform those terrible acts. Further, it can help people who want to know how to perform those things, see how the local authorities will be defending against them - thereby helping the terrists. For example, they can learn how car bombs are made, and how the authorities defend against car bombs - so that the terrorists can figure out weaknesses in the defense against car bombs.
IMHO it is a very bad idea to release these books into the public domain without serious controls. Probably this would be best done by a court - if you can proove that you legally need this information for court case - you can get it. But otherwise, it's just printed by the GPO and put into the public domain. That doesn't seem to me to be a very good idea - rather like putting the complete plans for atom bombs on the internet.
ON THE OTHER HAND - I also feel it would be fully and entirely appropriate for that school, given its' history, to be subject to regular and unannounced reviews of the cirrculeum, and instructional methods by a group containing impartial observers, and also some of the facility's worst detractors, and strongest defenders. I feel that members of the group should be allowed essentially free access, at any time that they want to the facility, classes, etc... By having a spectrum of opinion of on the review group, you are far more likely to get an accurate report.
For information on this topic, I suggest you contact local news sources, they tend to be rather more complete. I know about these stories since I used to live in the area and still get information from several. Savanah, Atlanta, and Jacksonville papers tend write more "balenced" stories. If you need, I can provide links to them. I admit, I have found the papers in the Fort Benning area to be uniformly on the school's side - which is hardly surprising given their readership. For this subject, I defer to the Savanah, Jax and Atlanta papers, since they have a broader readership base.
I hope that this helps.
-- Rich Marsh (firstname.lastname@example.org), November 02, 2001.