School of Americas not a terrorist camp

If we were trying to keep the militaries in power, it looks as if we failed miserably.

Being student-journalists is no excuse for presenting a completely false piece of work such as “Terror base on the homefront” on Oct. 12.

Starting from the very first sentence, the fact errors are overwhelming and indefensible. Where is your proof for such a remark as, ” Ö remains a breeding ground for torture and inhumane practices?” Truth is, there is not one example of anyone taking a course or courses at the School of the Americas or Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, and later using that information for criminal acts. Not even one! 

The presence of four manuals at SOA 13 years ago is irrelevant, even if you could show one passage that “advocates” illegal activities, which you can’t (at least SOA Watch does not, nor does Amnesty International). 

You may be unaware that in addition to Latin American soldiers, U.S. soldiers, Canadian soldiers, English-speaking Caribbean soldiers, and even police and civilians from these countries attend the courses at WHINSEC. Your use of the term “graduate” is misleading as well. Do you call someone who completes a course or a semester at the University of Minnesota a graduate of the University? WHINSEC offers professional (adult) education in 24 different courses. Students come to a course; when they complete that course, they return to their jobs. 

That’s what makes your comment about the Colombian murders in Uraba province doubly wrong – the general in question took one short course when he was a cadet in 1976. What does that have to do with any behavior by him? The second problem you have is accusing this individual of murder without so much as one investigation or trial. Whatever happened to the term alleged?

The rest of your allegations are equally absurd, even contradictory on their face. I might point out that all the countries who continue to send students to WHINSEC have democratically-elected civilian governments. Maybe the teachings at SOA and WHINSEC have contributed to this turnaround from 25 years ago. If we were trying to keep the militaries in power, it looks as if we failed miserably. Even the Venezuelan coup turned around when most of the military (including many who had attended courses at SOA and WHINSEC) did not revolt, and the ones who did revolt gave it up. And Omar Torrijos took four courses between 1963 and 1967, but the cause-effect relationship between his attendance and his later behavior doesn’t exist. After all, he took power without violence, and there are no indications that any of his behaviors had anything to do with “training” anywhere.

I invite you to come here and see for yourself who we are and what we do. The institute is open every workday. Fort Benning, where we are located, does require a photo ID for visitors, but that is all. Visitors may sit in classes, talk with students and faculty, and review instructional materials.

At the time of the annual protests, we hold an open house for those who only come that weekend. They come to our building and talk with the commandant and a panel with representatives of the institute, the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Army, so all questions can be addressed. 

Also, a federal committee called the Board of Visitors meets here annually, with all sessions open to the public. The next meeting is Dec. 1 and 2.

Lee A. Rials is a public affairs officer for the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. Please send comments to [email protected].