When the School of the Americas (SOA) moved from Panama to Georgia's Ft. Benning in 1984, La Prenza, Panama's largest daily newspaper, called it "the school of assassins." The reputation of the U.S. Army school as a fount of brutality in Latin America was enhanced this spring when the U.N. Truth Commission listed the officers most responsible for the murder and mayhem in El Salvador's decade-long civil war.
Of the 12 officers cited in the U.N. report for the 1981 massacre of hundreds of unarmed civilians near El Mozote, eight were SOA graduates. Likewise, more than two-thirds of those responsible for the murder of the Jesuits, the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero, and the killing of the four U.S. churchwomen were trained at the U.S. Army facility--at U.S. taxpayer expense.
"The school should be closed," Maryknoll priest Roy Bourgeois, founder of the Columbus, Georgia-based SOA Watch, told Sojourners, "first because of the horrible cost in human lives to the people of Latin America and the Caribbean, and second because we don't think [U.S.] taxpayers should be funding this type of official terrorism." In recent years the government has spent more than $30 million at the school in building renovation alone; in the context of base closures and alleged Defense Department downsizing, Bourgeois said, the SOA should be the first to go.
On June 14--Flag Day--a group of military veterans from Minnesota (joined by others from Alabama, Florida, New York, and California) came in a caravan to Ft. Benning to demand that the government "Shut the Door of the SOA." The veterans brought 20 household doors, upon which were inscribed thousands of signatures, to present to SOA commandant Col. Jose Alvarez. Alvarez refused to meet with the veterans, and instead sent military police, who threatened the protesters with arrest if they entered the base.