School of the Americas: Is It History?
Your Nov. 19 article about the annual demonstration against the School of the Americas at Ft. Benning, Ga., served to remind me how easily an ideology of opposition can run away from reality.
The School of the Americas is closed. Congress created the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation with a new mission, faculty and leadership. Instead of just training Latin American military, the institute provides professional education to rising military, law enforcement and civilian leaders from Latin America, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean. Our mission focuses on the promotion of democratic values such as the advancement of human rights, the rule of law and respect for civilian authority. The institute’s programs, augmented by civilian professors, teach the same information taught in other U.S. military and government schools, except the institute offers the most extensive human rights training of any school in the Department of Defense. My staff and I ensure that our students understand the appropriate role of the military and law enforcement in democratic societies, which is to protect and honorably serve their citizens. Courses cover medical assistance training, disaster relief, counter-narcotics, border observation, peacekeeping and human rights training, to name a few.
Again, the old school is history. WHINSEC has a new approach, different policies and a civilian-led Board of Visitors. We strongly believe in the dialogue that takes place here between the students from all over our hemisphere. The WHINSEC staff, students and its curriculum contribute to peace, prosperity and freedom.
Col. Richard Downie
Director, Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation
Ft. Benning, Ga.
The article refers to the “alleged” victims of Latin American military personnel trained at the School of the Americas. Among these “alleged” victims is Efrain Bamaca Velasquez, who was tortured and executed in 1992 under the supervision of Guatemalan Col. Julio Roberto Alpirez. A graduate of the School of the Americas, Alpirez also “allegedly” oversaw the torture-execution of U.S. citizen Michael DeVine. (These “alleged” acts were confirmed by Rep. Robert Torricelli in 1995.)
I am sure that both DeVine’s family and Bamaca’s widow, U.S. attorney and outspoken School of the Americas critic Jennifer Harbury, find little solace in U.S. Brig. Gen. Paul Eaton’s comments on the protest: “People are focusing on the past. We are focusing on the future.”