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SEGMENT #4:   SCHOOL OF THE AMERICAS, SCHOOL OF ASSASSINS

Susan Sarandon, Narrator: “In the late afternoon of December 4th 1980, an unmarked grave was found in a field in El Salvador.  When it was opened in the presence of the U.S. Ambassador, it revealed the bodies of four women.  Maryknoll Sisters Maura Clark and Ita Ford, Ursuline Sister Dorothy Kazel and lay missionary, Jean Donovan.  Of the five officers later found responsible for the rape and murder of these women, three were graduates of the United States Army School of the Americas.   The School of the Americas originated in 1946 in Panama.  Now it is located on the grounds of Fort Benning, Georgia.” 

“The school teaches commando operations, sniper training, how to fire an M16 and psychological warfare.  Since no major declared war between Latin American countries has occurred in decades and the communist threat has vanished, why provide this kind of training?” 

Representative Joseph Kennedy:  “If you look at the course ranges that are offered to these individuals, they, in fact, are a dedicated way of teaching military leaders in foreign nations how to subvert their local communities.”

Narrator: “Since it opened, over 55,000 military officials from 23 Latin American and Caribbean countries have trained at the school.  About 2,000 students a year.  As facts have emerged about the school and its graduates, it has drawn the attention of a growing number of human rights activists such as Maryknoll Father Roy Bourgeois.”

Father Roy Bourgeois: “Just down the road here is a school, the School of the Americas.  It’s a combat school.  Most of the courses revolve around what they call “counter insurgency warfare.”  Who are the insurgents?  We have to ask that question.  They are the poor.  They are the people in Latin America who call for reform. They are the landless peasants who are hungry.  They are health care workers, human rights advocates, labor organizers, they become the insurgents, they’re seen as “El Enemigo,” the “Enemy.”   And they are those who become the targets of those who learn their lessons at the School of the Americas.”

Narrator:  “What has been learned about the lessons taught at the school?  In the 1980s, the civil war in El Salvador became a focal point for human rights activists throughout the world. Death squads operated freely, often killing 50 people a night.  There was so many cases that on March 23rd. 1980, Archbishop Oscar Romero in San Salvador, made a plea to the military leaders of his country.”

Archbishop Oscar Romero (translated from Spanish): “I would like to make an appeal in a special way to the men of the army.  In the name of God, in the name of the suffering people whose laments rise to the heavens each day more tumultuous.  I beg you! I ask you! I order you! In the name of God, stop the repression!” 

Narrator: “While celebrating mass the next day, Archbishop Romero was assassinated.” 

“A number of years later, the National Security Archives in Washington, D.C., made an important discovery when they obtained a copy of a declassified cable.” 

Kate Doyle:  “These two cables are both from the American Embassy in El Salvador.  One is from Dean Hinton who was then Ambassador to El Salvador in 1981, and it discusses a meeting during which Roberto D’Aubuisson plans the murder of Archbishop Romero.  During the meeting, there is described a lottery that the people who are attending the meeting hold to see who would draw the right to kill Romero himself.” 

Narrator:  “D’Aubuisson was trained at the School of the Americas.  Also trained at the school were two of the three officers directly responsible for the assassination.”

“December 11, 1981, El Mazote, a small village in El Salvador.” 

Rufina Amaya – El Mazote:  “First, they forced everyone out of their houses and made us all lie face down in the street, both men and women.  There were soldiers on both sides.  Then they moved away to see the women kneeling down on the ground to pray.  They killed all of them.  Not a single one of them survived, just me by the grace of God.  I hid under a tree.  When I heard the screams of the children, and I knew which ones were mine, they were crying, “Mommy! They’re killing us!”

Narrator:  “Over 900 men, women and children were massacred.  Virtually the entire population of the village and the area surrounding El Mazote.  Out of 143 bodies identified in the laboratory, 131 were children under the age of 12, including three infants under the age of 3 months.” 

“Ten of the twelve officers cited as responsible for the El Mazote massacre were graduates of the School of the Americas.  They were members of the Atlacatl Battalion, a part of the El Salvador army.” 

“November 16, 1989, San Salvador:  Six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her 15 year-old daughter, were slaughtered.  To get the facts about this incident, a U.S. congressional investigation began, led by Representative Joseph Moakley.”

Representative Joseph Moakley:  “I went down, talked with the Embassy, talked with the military, talked with the unionists. The killing was done by the Atlacatl Battalion which is the crack battalion in that country.  And these are the people, some of them had just returned from the United States where they were taught a course in Human Rights, amongst other things.”

Narrator:  “Nineteen of the 26 officers implicated in the Jesuit murders were graduates of the school.  The United Nations Truth Commission Report released on March 15th, 1993, cited specific officers for committing atrocities during the El Salvador civil war.  At School of the Americas Watch, just outside Fort Benning, Georgia, Vicky Immerman matched the names cited in the UN report with names in the United States government document.”

Vicky Immerman: “What I did was, I took these officers, all the officers listed in the report, and I took their names and looked them up in this list of graduates of the School of the Americas, which we received through the Freedom of Information Act.  What I found were 49 of the 60 some officers listed were graduates of the School of the Americas.” 

Narrator: “El Salvador is only part of the school’s story.  In the entry area of one of its main buildings are photographs of those the school honors.  Its so-called “Hall of Fame.” At the top of list, Hugo Bonzer, former dictator of Bolivia, a graduate of the school.  Some of the others similarly honored are the former dictators of Honduras, Ecuador and Argentina and Generals from eight other Latin and Caribbean nations, many cited by human rights groups of involvement in human rights abuses in their own countries.”

“Among other graduates, Manuel Noriega, former President of Panama, currently in prison in the United States.  Four of the five ranking Honduran officers who organized death squads in the 1980s as part of Battalion 316, are graduates.  Half of the 250 Colombian officers cited for human rights abuses attended the school.  The three highest ranking Peruvian officers convicted in February, 1994, of murdering nine university students and a professor, were all graduates.  During the dictatorship of the Somoza family, over 4,000 National Guard troops

graduated from the school.  Many of them later became known as the Contras responsible for the deaths of thousands of Nicaraguan peasants in the 1980’s.   The General in charge of Argentina’s so-called “dirty war” was a school graduate.  During that internal conflict in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s an estimated 30,000 people were tortured, disappeared and murdered.  General Hector Gramajo of Guatemala was the featured speaker at the school’s graduation ceremonies in 1991.  Human rights groups claim he is the architect of strategies that legalized military atrocities in Guatemala, resulting in the death of over 200,000 men, women and children.”

Father Roy Bourgeois: “As a Catholic priest, as a U.S. citizen, I really feel a responsibility to speak out against that because of this.  This does not lead to healing.  It leads to death and suffering.  In a way, this is a death machine.  And this I want to say is very close to home because it’s in our backyard.  It is not out there in El Salvador.  This is not in South Africa.  We are talking about a school of assassins right here in our backyard being supported and financed through our tax money.  It’s being done in our name.”

Narrator:  “On September 30th, 1993, the School of the Americas was debated by Congress for the first time in its history.  It happened when an amendment to the Defense Department budget was introduced by Congressman Joseph Kennedy.”

Congressman Joseph Kennedy:  “Mister Speaker, my amendment would reduce the army operation and maintenance account by $2.9 million.  The amount dedicated to running the Army’s School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia.  The intent of this amendment is to close the school.”

“We’re only 30 or 40 votes short of winning. That means that if people around the country hear about this and write their congressman, we can win. This is an issue that we can win on.”

Father Roy Bourgeois: “What’s very important right now, I feel, is to let our voices be heard.  Bishop Romero said it best before he was killed, before he was assassinated by someone who trained at the School of the Americas.  He said, “We who have a voice, we have to speak for the voiceless.”  And I realize that we here in this country, we have a voice. We can speak without having to worry about being disappeared, or tortured, or being picked up.  We can speak.  And I just hope that we can speak clearly and boldly on this issue.”

Voice of translator (woman speaking Spanish): “I am not very educated but in my simple words I think that the only thing the School of the Americas has accomplished is the destruction of our countries in Latin America.  Don’t give us any more of that military aid.  It would be better to help the poor who are in need.”

Father Roy Bourgeois: “We need the voices of others and we also need those letters to congressional leaders to let them know that we will not allow them to use our money to run a school of assassins.”

For more information:

SOA Watch

P.O. Box 3330

Columbus, GA 31903

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