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House efforts to end 'school for dictators' funding fails.

BROWNSVILLE, Texas - The House of Representatives has killed an attempt to eliminate the funding for the Army School of the Americas, a facility at Ft. Benning, Ga., that has come under increasing attack for graduating some of the worst human rights abusers in recent times.

Calling it a "school for dictators," U.S. Rep. Joseph Kennedy, D-Mass., attempted to amend the defense appropriations bill Sept. 30, by eliminating money for the school that, he said, "costs us millions of dollars a year and identifies us with tyranny and oppression."

In a letter to his colleagues, Kennedy said that 48 of the 69 Salvadoran officers cited for human rights violations by the recent U.N. Truth Commission were SOA graduates.

The graduates include, he said, 19 of the 26 officers implicated in the 1989 assassination of six Jesuits and two women; three of the five officers cited for the rape and murder of four church-women in 1980; and two of the three officers cited for the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero.

SOA's 58,000 graduates also include former Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega; Salvadoran death squad organizer Roberto D'Aubuisson; Gen. Humberto Regalado, the Honduran military chief linked to Colombian drug dealers; dictator Hugo Banzer Suarez, the Bolivian president who savagely attacked miners and church workers in the 1970s.

"If the School of the Americas held an alumni meeting, it would bring together some of the most unsavory thugs in the Western Hemisphere," U.S. Rep. Martin Meehan, D-Mass., told the House.

Even before a House committee took up the issue, Meehan wrote a letter to Defense Secretary Les Aspin asking him to examine why so many officers trained at the school have committed so many atrocities. He also asked that the Pentagon reassess the school's role.

One former instructor, retired Army Maj. Joseph Blair, in a newspaper column called the school a "Cold War dinosaur." Said Blair, who taught there from 1986 to 1989, "In three years at the school, I never heard of such lofty goals as promoting freedom, democracy or human rights.

"Latin American officers I served with or taught as students at the School of the Americas were openly critical of the Catholic church and especially the work of the Maryknolls and the Christian missionaries," he said.

The school offers classes in sniper and commando training, but, Blair said, "Classroom instruction was poor. The military skills required to oppress indigenous populations were finely honed long before most Latin American faculty members and students were flown in at U.S. government expense for their vacations in Columbus."

SOA officials have admitted that students are given free tickets to Atlanta Braves games and trips to Disney World, but only to expose them to U.S. culture and "show them the good life."

While Kennedy's amendment failed 256-174, the vote was seen as a victory by many critics of the school.

"It was a real breakthrough," said Fr. Roy Bourgeois, a Maryknoll priest and SOA watchdog who has gone to prison twice for protests at the fort. "It was the first time since the school began in Panama in 1946 that there has ever been a public debate about its role, let alone its funding."

"The school can only operate in secret, in the shadows," he said. "Now that it's being brought into the light, the votes will come to close its doors."
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Title Annotation:Congress; Army School of the Americas
Author:Hodge, James
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Oct 15, 1993
Words:561
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