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What is an appropropriate response?
Political and philosophical considerations after the attack on the Word Trade Center

Backyard terrorism

The US has been training terrorists at a camp in Georgia for years - 
and it's still at it

George Monbiot
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 

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, 

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.