"But what does Sam Nunn think?" I was startled by the question that came from a clergy group in Columbus, Georgia. I had been invited to speak about the U.S. Army School of the Americas (SOA) at Fort Benning in Columbus and to explain why people of faith all around the country are demanding that the SOA be closed down.
During my 30-minute presentation, I described how over the last 50 years, the School of the Americas had trained almost 60,000 soldiers from Latin America and the Caribbean in counterinsurgency operations, military intelligence, combat skills, commando tactics, and psychological operations, all at U.S. taxpayer expense. In September 1996, I told the group, the Department of Defense finally admitted that the SOA also actively taught torture techniques using training manuals that advocated executions, extortion, physical abuse, and paying of bounties for enemy dead. One SOA graduate, I revealed, testified that when he was at the school while it was based in Panama, homeless people were used as guinea pigs for the torture training.
The Pentagon says the SOA has reformed, I told the clergy group, but we must not be fooled. The school's mission remains the sameit is a combat-training school that teaches soldiers how to kill. But who is the enemy? The same as always: clergy and other religious workers, labor organizers, health promoters, and educatorsthe poor and those who work with the poor.
For more than half an hour, I detailed the horrifying history of the school, ending with a plea for the clergy group to join with other religious leaders around the country to demand that the SOA be closed. Then came the query. "But what does Sam Nunn think?" The Georgia senator's support for the SOA ultimately defined the clergyman-questioner's decision to raise no opposition to this "School of Assassins."