Sunday, November 09, 2008



The following item from the School of the America Watch site tells about how army officers in Colombia who have recently been dismissed for extra-judicial muders received their training at the US Fort Benning facility formerly known as the 'School of the America'.
Colombian Army commanders fired for killings received U.S. training and assistance‏:
Following the U.S. presidential election by just two weeks, thousands of human rights activists will converge on November 21-23, 2008 at the gates of Fort Benning, Georgia to demand a new direction in U.S.-Latin America foreign policy and the closure of the School of the Americas/ Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (SOA/WHINSEC).

Army commanders fired for killings received U.S. training and assistance

By John Lindsay-Poland

Colombian Army commander Mario Montoya resigned today, in the wake of a scandal over army killings of civilians that a United Nations official on Saturday called " systematic and widespread." A protégé of the United States, Montoya received training at the notorious U.S. Army School of the Americas (SOA) and has also taught other soldiers as an instructor at the SOA. Montoya was an architect of the "body count" counterinsurgency strategy that many analysts believe led to the systematic civilian killings. Colombian President Alvaro Uribe announced the dismissal of 27 military officers on October 29, including three generals and 11 colonels and lieutenant colonels, for human rights abuses. The abuses include involvement in the killings of dozens of youths who were recruited in Bogotá slums and shortly after were reported as killed in combat by the army, hundreds of miles away.

The dismissal is a positive action, which we applaud. Officers responsible for killing civilians must face consequences, or the killing will continue.

Human rights organizations have documented more than 500 reported extrajudicial killings by the army since the beginning of last year. This week, Amnesty International issued a scathing report on worsening conditions in Colombia, including massive displacement of internal refugees, increased extrajudicial killings, and attacks on human rights defenders. A New York Times front-page story on October 30 also highlighted the problem, and cited FOR's research on extrajudicial executions, as did a Los Angeles Times story. But it was the report that poor Bogota youths whose families said they had disappeared, had been recruited by the army or others, then reported as dead in combat, that detonated the issue. Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos admitted that the army still harbors "holdouts who are demanding bodies for results." The dismissal of officers also demonstrates extensive U.S. complicity with the abuses. The United States gave military training directly or assisted the units of nearly all of the officers implicated in the killings. At least eleven of the officers, including Brigadier Generals Paulino Coronado Gamez and José Cortes Franco, were trained at the U.S. Army School of the Americas, and Cortes even served as an instructor at the school in 1994. Most of the officers commanded units that had been 'vetted' by U.S. officials for human rights abuses and approved to receive assistance in 2008, or received training for some officers, in spite of extensive reports that their units had carried out murders of civilians.

Yet the dismissal, which focuses on officers operating in a northeastern region of Colombia where the disappeared youths were found, addresses only a small number of the army units responsible for civilian killings. In the oil-rich Casanare and Arauca departments, the U.S.-trained 16th and 18th Brigades have reportedly committed dozens of killings, as has the U.S.-supported 9th Brigade in the coffee-growing department of Huila. In southeastern Valle and Cauca, the Third Brigade's Codazzi Batallion receives U.S. support and reportedly committed at least nine killings of civilians last year, as may be implicated in firing on peaceful indigenous protesters this month. In southern Meta and Guaviare departments, the United States supports multiple mobile brigades in areas where the army has committed a large number of civilian killings.

Army chief Montoya is replaced by Major General Gilberto Rocha Ayala. In 2003-04, Rocha commanded the army's Second Brigade in northeastern Colombia. Under his command, Colonel Hernán Mejia, then commander of the La Popa Battalion, is under investigation by the Colombian Prosecutor General for reportedly engineering the killing of paramilitaries and passing them off as guerrillas. Rocha also commanded the army's Ninth Brigade in 2002-03, with jurisdiction in Huila province, where human rights groups report some six extrajudicial executions occurring during his command. Rocha Ayala was an instructor at the School of the Americas in 1995. In addition, most of the army's current leadership - including 17 of 24 brigade commanders - were trained by the United States at the School of the Americas, on top of U.S. training provided to Colombian officers at dozens of other military schools and in Colombia.

Washington is involved in the army's human rights problem through and through, and journalists, activists, and Congressional staff ought to ask when the United States will stop financing such murderous criminal operations. We believe the time is now.

By John Lindsay-Poland.
Meanwhile there is an on-line petition to President Elect Obama asking that the SOA be closed. There will also be the annual vigil at the SOA site coming up this November 21 to 23. Here's the details as well as background on the SOA.
Click here to download petition forms
- Click here to sign the petition online
Nov. 21-23, 2008: Thousands will converge on Fort Benning, Georgia for the November Vigil to Close the School of the Americas (SOA/WHINSEC)
Join torture survivors, community organizers, and social justice activists from across the Americas and converge at the gates of Fort Benning, Georgia, to start building the world that we hope for. The annual November vigil to close the School of the Americas will follow the election of President Obama by two weeks. It will be an opportunity for the progressive movement to push for the closure of the SOA/WHINSEC and to set an agenda for a new direction in U.S. foreign policy.
Change is coming and we are going to close the School of the Americas (SOA/WHINSEC)!
Click here for the Schedule of Events
Click here to download the November Organizing Packet
Regional events in the lead-up to the November vigil are taking place on November 9 at the gates of the U.S. Southern Command in Florida, from November 15-16 at Fort Huachuca in Arizona, on November 20 at Drummond in Alabama and on November 20 in Atlanta, Georgia.
About the School of the Americas / Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation :
The US Army School of Americas (SOA), based in Fort Benning, Georgia, trains Latin American security personnel in combat, counter-insurgency, and counter-narcotics. SOA graduates are responsible for some of the worst human rights abuses in Latin America. In 1996 the Pentagon was forced to release training manuals used at the school that advocated torture, extortion and execution. Among the SOA's nearly 60,000 graduates are notorious dictators Manuel Noriega and Omar Torrijos of Panama, Leopoldo Galtieri and Roberto Viola of Argentina, Juan Velasco Alvarado of Peru, Guillermo Rodriguez of Ecuador, and Hugo Banzer Suarez of Bolivia. Lower-level SOA graduates have participated in human rights abuses that include the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero and the El Mozote Massacre of 900 civilians. (See Grads in the News).

In an attempt to deflect public criticism and disassociate the school from its dubious reputation, the SOA was renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) in 2001. The name change was a result of a Department of Defense proposal included in the Defense Authorization Bill for Fiscal 2001, at a time when SOA opponents were poised to win a congressional vote on legislation that would have dismantled the school. The name-change measure passed when the House of Representatives defeated a bi-partisan amendment to close the SOA and conduct a congressional investigation by a narrow ten-vote margin. (See Talking Points, Critique of New School, Vote Roll Call.)

In a media interview, Georgia Senator and SOA supporter the late Paul Coverdell characterized the DOD proposal as a "cosmetic" change that would ensure that the SOA could continue its mission and operation. Critics of the SOA concur.

SOA Watch is a nonviolent grassroots movement that works through creative protest and resistance, legislative and media work to stand in solidarity with the people of Latin America, to close the SOA/WHINSEC and to change oppressive U.S. foreign policy that institutions like the SOA represent. We are grateful to our sisters and brothers throughout Latin America and the the Caribbean for their inspiration and the invitation to join them in their struggle for economic and social justice.

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