U.S. policies assist human rights abusers

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., (U-Wire) — The graphic and sickening pictures of violence flowing out of East Timor should have been more than enough evidence for the termination of all military cooperation with Indonesia. President Clinton has responded, issuing an edict suspending the United States military from working with that nation’s forces.
But evidence coming to light this week indicates the spirit of the edict has not been followed. A Boston Globe report found that Indonesian Army recruits are still being trained at Norwich University, a private military college in Vermont.
Many of the Indonesian students training at Norwich are part of Kopassus, the Indonesian special-forces unit which raged a campaign of terror on the people of East Timor. Charred villages, executed civilians and a displaced populace are a few of the horrific fruits of that campaign.
It is embarrassing enough that United States cooperation with the Indonesian military and Kopassus provided some of the training from which the Indonesian military waged war on East Timor. But that Norwich would continue a training program for these murderous rogues after their unprovoked attacks on East Timor is absolutely disgraceful.
Understandably, some members of Congress are upset over this revelation. Representative James McGovern, D-Mass., and Senator Tom Harkin, D-Ia., argue to Secretary of Defense William Cohen that the Kopassus training at Norwich “is in direct violation of congressional prohibitions on U.S. military assistance and training of military committing human rights abuses.”
Additionally, McGovern and Harkin have urged Cohen to remove all members of the Indonesian military studying in the United States and return them to their home country. This suggestion should be carried out immediately.
Unfortunately, our alliances in Indonesia represent only the tip of a very dark and deep iceberg regarding U.S. military cooperation with other corrupt dictatorships around the world. Time and again, United States military training has allowed murderous dictators to seize power.
The United States Army owns and operates a factory churning out serious abusers of human rights. Named the “School of the Americas,” the facility at Fort Benning, Ga. has hosted many of Latin America’s worst violators of human rights.
A list of graduates of the School of the Americas reveals the shameful story. General Manuel Noreiga, later arrested by United States invaders on drug trafficking and racketeering charges, is also suspected of murder. Many Argentine graduates of the School of the Americas were involved in that nation’s “dirty war” of 1976-1983 involving political repression, torture and the execution or disappearance of 30,000 civilians. School of the Americas graduates filled the cabinets of military dictatorships in Guatemala throughout the 1980s. Several graduates are suspected in the murder of El Salvador’s Archbishop Oscar Romero in 1980 and the rape and murder of four American churchwomen in that nation. Other less notable cases, including peasant executions in Colombia, political arrests in Paraguay and drug trafficking in Bolivia, are far too numerous to mention all of them here.
Representative Joseph Moakley, D-Mass., has filed a bill seeking that the School of the Americas be shuttered for good. The bill has attracted over 150 co-sponsors. A similar bill has been introduced in the Senate by Senator Richard Durbin, D-Ill. These bills desperately deserve passage.
While closing the School of the Americas is an important step toward improving human rights in foreign nations and American relations with other countries, it will not alone affect the needed changes. The military and private training organizations such as Norwich University must pay special heed to two additional clauses in Moakley’s bill further governing United States military cooperation with other nations. The bill urges the Secretary of Defense to “substantially increase emphasis upon respect for human rights, the proper role of a military within a democratic society, and accountable and transparent management of defense and security policy; and vigorously implement Department of Defense regulations regarding the screening of foreign candidates… to ensure that the United States does not train individuals implicated in human rights abuses, illegal drug trafficking, or corruption.”
Those in America who are training soldiers for other nations need to take this advice to heart and terminate any relationship that would reasonably result in civilian harassment and oppression.
As many formerly underdeveloped nations modernize around the world, the United States must seek to keep warm and open relations with them. America has a special role in encouraging political freedom in these nations. Preparing military dictators can only harm our relationship with other countries and embitter their populaces with hostile attitudes toward the United States. It is time for this charade to end.
The United States must close the School of the Americas, and the government and private training organizations must end cooperation with regimes abusing the human rights of their citizens. Only with these actions will the United States be able to carry its mantle as protector and guardian of human rights into the problems and conflicts of the future.

Michael J. Ring’s column originally appeared in Friday’s Massachusetts Institute of Technology paper, The Tech.