Training Torturers: The School of the Americas

Training Torturers: The School of the AmericasMarjorie CohnIn the most developed countries (France, the United States), some terrible schools have trained soldiers for years to the subtleties of the cruellest torture techniques. Marjorie Cohn is studying the School of the Americas history from where have come out some terrible war criminals. To limit the spread of Communism in the 60s and the 70s, the United States has supported the biggest Latin American dictatorships by training their leaders to counteract the enemies of the regime. Almost 60 000 soldiers, officers and civilians had become torturers experts when they went out of the School of Americas. Today, the school activities remain unclear. No investigation has been opened to highlight the managers responsibilities.Importing torture techniques it had used in the Phoenix program in Vietnam – including waterboarding, electric shock, assassination, kidnapping, and summary execution – the United States trained Latin American strongmen how to maintain control. Manuals that explained how to use torture to neutralize enemies were brought to the School from the U.S. Army intelligence training center at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. “The U.S. Army School of the Americas … is a school that has run more dictators than any other school in the history of the world.” – Representative Joseph Kennedy [1]A few years ago, during a visit to Buenos Aires, I visited the Plaza de Mayo. Old women carrying large photographs of their dead children marched around the square as they have done every Thursday since April 1977. One woman told me how her 18-year-old daughter, clad in a nightgown, was abducted in the middle of the night. She had criticized government policies at the university. Her body was found near a creek. Other women related stories of how their children were “disappeared” and tortured. These mothers continue to demand that the military tell them what happened to their loved ones. During the time they were kidnapped, the United States supported the Argentine dictatorship in its “dirty war.” In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Leopoldo Galtieri led the military junta in Argentina, when some 30,000 people were disappeared and killed. Galtieri was a graduate of the School of the Americas.A School for CounterinsurgencyThe School was established in 1946 in the Panama Canal Zone; it was called the Latin American Training Center-Ground Division. In 1963, it became the U.S. Army School of the Americas. It suspended operations in September 1984 pursuant to the 1977 Panama Canal Treaty. The School of the Americas (SOA) reopened three months later at Fort Benning, Georgia, where a U.S. military base is located. Due to negative publicity about the School, SOA was cosmetically renamed Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) in 2001.Since it opened, more than 59,000 military, police, and civilians from 23 Latin American and Caribbean countries have been trained at the School. Many went on to disappear, torture, and murder their people. “In fact,” according to a 1995 Los Angeles Times editorial, “it is hard to think of a coup or human rights outrage that has occurred in [Latin America] in the past 40 years in which alumni of the School of the Americas were not involved” [2].During the Cold War, the United States used Latin American dictatorships as proxies to counter revolutions and keep the region “safe” from communism. The 1959 Cuban revolution, the 1970 election of Salvador Allende in Chile, and the 1979 Nicaraguan revolution were pivotal moments for the anti-communist U.S. foreign policy in Latin America.Another significant development that influenced U.S. policy was Vatican II in the early 1960s, which led to reform in the Catholic Church and liberation theology. In a break from past practice, the church began to align itself with the poor, focusing on inequality that led to hunger and misery. This is the role the church played in Guatemala in the mid-1980s, which led to the kidnapping and torture of Sister Dianna Ortíz, described below.The United States armed military governments, provided them with money and loans, and used diplomatic pressure and threats to ensure loyalty to U.S. interests. Training military tyrants to repress their own populations was cheaper and easier than sending in U.S. troops. The primary goal of the United States in Latin America during this period was to maintain stability for U.S. investment.Importing torture techniques it had used in the Phoenix program in Vietnam – including waterboarding*, electric shock, assassination, kidnapping, and summary execution – the United States trained Latin American strongmen how to maintain control. Manuals that explained how to use torture to neutralize enemies were brought to the School from the U.S. Army intelligence training center at Fort Huachuca, Arizona.As the United States supported these dictatorships and trained them to use vicious tactics against their people, both sides enga

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