U.S. Army's School of the Americas' Advanced Studies in Torture

Revolutionary Worker #886, December 15, 1996

"The mission of the School of Americas is to develop and conduct resident training for Latin American military personnel, encourage multinational military relationships and enhance the Latin American armed forces' knowledge of U.S. customs and traditions."

From the Web page of the U.S. Army's Fort Benning, site of the School of Americas

"The School of the Americas is where select military personnel from Central and South America receive finishing touches on military training. This training is used to control and exterminate the poor and indigenous people of the trainees' countries. The poor are declared the enemy because they need land, crops, employment, living wages, education, health care, housing and the possibility of a human life. This threatens the leaders of these countries who control the wealth and resources of the land by military force."

Bill Bichsel, a Jesuit priest who recently ended
a four-month jail term for protesting at the SOA

In 1992, masked troops abducted nine students and a professor from La Cantuta University in Lima, Peru. The Fujimori regime denied that its Armed Forces were involved. But the case broke wide open when a high-ranking Peruvian general revealed that a death squad--operating under direct orders from top government and military leaders--was responsible for the disappearances. Later, the remains of the La Cantuta victims were found in secret graves. The shocking exposure forced the Peruvian rulers to put som e military officers on trial, while shielding the top levels of the government and the military.

The U.S. government tried to distance itself from the La Cantuta massacre, criticizing the handling of the case by the Peruvian authorities. But this was shameless hypocrisy on the part of the U.S., the main backer of the repressive Fujimori regime and its vicious counterrevolutionary war against the people's war led by the Communist Party of Peru.

At least six military officers involved in the military death squad that committed the La Cantuta massacre were graduates of the U.S. Army's School of the Americas, based at Fort Benning, Georgia.

The Peruvian death-squad killers are just a few of the tens of thousands of officers and soldiers from pro-U.S. regimes in Latin America and the Caribbean who have received "training" at the School of the Americas. Other brutal graduates of the notorious school include: 19 of the 27 officers in El Salvador implicated in the 1989 execution-style murder of six Jesuit priests, a woman who worked as their cook, and her daughter; 105 of the 246 officers in the Colombian military charged with human rights vio lations in a 1992 report; four of five senior Honduran officers accused in a 1987 Americas Watch report of organizing a secret death squad called Battalion 3-16.

Torture Training Manuals

In September of this year, the U.S. Defense Department admitted publicly that training manuals used at the School of the Americas (SOA) included instructions on the use of torture, beatings, murder and extortion against government opponents and in the recruitment of informers.

U.S. officials and the major media reacted to the revelation with "shock." But the truth is that the methods spelled out in the manuals have long been in use by the U.S. military--for example, during the war in Vietnam during the 1960s and '70s.

And people throughout Latin America and the Caribbean are quite familiar with the brutal nature of the SOA. Graduates of SOA have carried out countless murders, massacres, tortures, disappearances, right-wing military coups and other crimes against the people in the region. For many people, SOA stands for the "School of Assassins."

According to the Pentagon's admission, the seven Spanish-language manuals were used between 1987 and 1991 at the SOA and by U.S. military trainers in Latin American and Caribbean countries. The manuals were based on lesson plans used by the SOA instructors since 1982. And these lesson plans, in turn, were based on "Project X"--the U.S. Army's foreign intelligence program from the 1960s. The Pentagon says that as many as a thousand copies of the manuals may have been distributed at the SOA and in the var ious countries of the region.

One section of the manuals was described two years ago by Covert Action (Fall 1994). According to the magazine, a former political prisoner in Paraguay was searching for his own case files at a police station when he discovered a file related to SOA teaching material: "The same folder (marked `Confidential'), in a section labeled `Instruction at the School of Americas,' contains a manual teaching `interrogators' how to keep electric shock victims alive and responsive. The manual recommends dous ing the victims' heads and bodies with salt water, and includes a sketch showing how this `treatment' should be carried out."

After the Pentagon publicly admitted the existence of the manuals several months ago, it released some excerpts; and some other sections were reported by various news sources. Here are some examples:

-- The CI [counterintelligence] agent must offer presents and compensation for information leading to the arrest, capture or death of guerrillas."

-- Another function of CI agents is recommending CI targets for neutralizing."

-- The CI agent could cause the arrest of the employee's [the person recruited as an informer] parents, imprison the employee or give him a beating as part of the placement plan of said employee in the guerrilla organization."

-- A deserter could be more or less certain that there will be no reprisals against him if all other members of his cell are eliminated by government security forces."

-- Once a security agent of the guerrilla organization has been identified, he could be forced or induced to abandon his cause without abandoning his position or he could be neutralized."

-- In addition, if an individual has been recruited using fear as a weapon, the CI agent must in a position of [sic] maintain the threat."

-- A passage in one manual talks of "information obtained involuntarily from insurgents who have been captured."

A Tradition of Brutality

The Pentagon claims that the SOA manuals "did not represent U.S. government policy." They defend themselves by saying that the "objectionable passages" in the manuals were used in "error," and that the problem has been "fixed" now that the manuals have been discontinued.

But the SOA manuals were not some "mistake" or "exception." They reflect standard operating procedure for the U.S. military, especially in oppressed countries.

In a statement about the SOA manuals, Amnesty International noted that the connection of the manuals to the Army's Project X "raise more troubling questions than they answer. They reveal the existence of a U.S. intelligence program and doctrine which taught beatings, murder and other gross human rights violations dating back to the 1960s."

During the Vietnam War, the U.S. ran the Phoenix Program which left a bloody trail of mass murder in the name of "counter-insurgency." Employing U.S. troops and reactionary Vietnamese, the program offered $11,000 rewards for live "VCI" ("Vietcong Infrastructure," a term applied to virtually any Vietnamese who didn't express complete loyalty to the U.S. and its South Vietnamese puppets) and half that amount for a dead one. Over 21,000 Vietnamese were killed through the Phoenix Program, according to one U .S. government report (clearly an underestimation).

It was during the Phoenix Program that the word "neutralize"--meaning assassinate--originated as part of the vocabulary of the U.S. military and intelligence operations. It replaced the previously used "eliminate," which was thought to be a little too blatant. As the excerpts from the SOA manuals show, "neutralize" is still in popular usage by the U.S. military.

During the U.S. war against Nicaragua in the 1980s, the CIA supplied the Contras (the counterrevolutionary anti-Sandinista army) with a manual titled Psychological Operations in Guerrilla Warfare. The manual called for the use of assassinations, kidnapings, extortions and other forms of "selective use of violence for propagandistic effect." One Contra leader, Edgar Chamorro, said that after a CIA agent provided the text of the manual and money for its production, another CIA operative told him that that manual was a "mistake." But the "mistake," according to the CIA agent, was not the actual content of the manual. Chamorro was told that "you should never write that down. You do it, but don't write about it." It was also revealed that the CIA-Contra manual was a rehash, including some word-for-word translations, of lesson plans used by the psychological operations department of the U.S. Army Special Warfare School at Fort Bragg during the Vietnam War.

As the CIA agent's remark to Chamorro makes clear, not all such training by the U.S. military takes place through printed manuals. For example, during the civil war in El Salvador in the early 1980s, a former soldier of the U.S.-backed Salvadoran government reported that he saw "torture classes" taught by U.S. Green Berets.

In a interview reported in the 1982 issue of El Salvador Alert, the publication of the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador, the soldier said: "Six days later we returned to the barracks and then they began to teach us how to torture. One evening they went and got nine young people that were accused of being guerrillas and brought them to where we were.... The first one they brought [was] a young fellow who was around 15 or 16 years old and the first thing they did was stick t he bayonets under his fingernails and pulled them out. That day he was the first one that died under torture.... The officers said, `We are going to teach you how to mutilate and how to teach a lesson to these guerrillas.' The officers who were teaching us this were the American Green Berets. They didn't speak Spanish, so they spoke English and then another officer--Salvadoran--translated it into Spanish for us."

The soldier said he saw others who were tortured and murdered--including a 13-year-old girl who was raped by a group of officers before being killed, and a man who was tied up and then thrown off a helicopter into the sea.

Behind the "Human Rights" Cover

As part of the attempt to cover up the ugly odor coming out of SOA, the U.S. Army began including courses in "human rights" at the school several years ago. And liberal politicians like Representative Joseph Kennedy II are pushing to change the SOA into an "Academy for Democracy and Civil-Military Relations"--which would include civilian as well as military students and emphasize the military's "accountability to the civilian government."

But as Bill Bichsel, a Jesuit priest and an anti-SOA protester, points out, "The introduction of human rights courses into the curriculum cannot mask the fact that the training is still about the control and repression of indigenous and poor people. The new image goes hand-in-hand with `reasonable' neo-liberal economic policies which covet and coerce cheap labor and submissive populations."

The U.S. military provides training to soldiers from many other pro-U.S. regimes around the world, but only those from Latin America and the Caribbean have a special school. For the U.S. ruling class, this region is their "back yard" where they claim a special "right" to dominate, exploit and oppress.

From Haiti to Mexico to Peru, the U.S. and the International Monetary Fund are pushing heartless economic measures--such as a steep rise in food and fuel prices--that assault the people and make the lives of millions even more miserable. The U.S. and the various reactionary regimes know that their actions are bound to give rise to upheaval, resistance and revolutionary struggle. And they count on their armed forces to keep the people down by force. Even as they talk about "human rights," the School of t he Americas continues to churn out hundreds of graduates each year, highly trained in the Yankee methods of reactionary violence against the people.

Murderous Alumni

Since it was established in 1946, the U.S. Army School of the Americas has trained about 60,000 military and police officers from Latin America and the Caribbean. Here are just a few of the notorious graduates of the SOA's training courses who became high-level officials of various pro-U.S. regimes in the region:

Hugo Bánzer Suárez, Bolivia:

As dictator in the 1970s, he brutally suppressed miners, peasants and others. The SOA named Bánzer to its "Hall of Fame" and his framed picture, along with those of other Hall members, are displayed prominently at the school.

Gen. Manuel Antonio Callejas y Callejas, Guatemala:

Chief of intelligence in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when thousands of anti-government activists were assassinated.

José Efraín Ríos Montt, Guatemala:

A "born again" Christian fascist who headed the government in the early 1980s. According to a fall 1982 Amnesty International report, 2,600 Indians and peasants had been massacred in the period of a few months since Ríos Montt became president earlier that year.

Roberto D'Aubuisson, El Salvador:

As leader of right-wing death squads, he was involved in many crimes including the 1980 assassination of Archbishop Romero and the 1981 El Mozote massacre where 900 people were killed.

Manuel Noriega, Panama:

CIA agent and head of a blatantly corrupt regime with close ties to the U.S.--until he came into conflict with Washington and was ousted through the 1989 U.S. invasion.

Gen. Luis Alonso Discua, Honduras:

Founder of a death squad known as Battalion 3-16, which was responsible for many disappearances and murders of government opponents. At least 18 other ranking officers tied to the battalion studied at SOA.

Gen. Raoul Cédras, Haiti:

Led the 1991 coup which overthrew the Aristide government and established a brutal military regime.

Gen. Leopoldo Galtieri, Argentina:

In the early 1980s he headed the military junta which was responsible for killing tens of thousands of people--using such techniques as throwing people off helicopters into the ocean.

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