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The "School of the Assassins" Fiction By: Mark D. Tooley
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A record number of left-wing demonstrators (14,000-22,000), many of them church officials and activists, showed up for this year’s annual march in November against the Defense Department’s formerly named School of the Americas at Ft. Benning, Georgia.   

Now officially called “Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), its left-wing critics prefer “School of the Assassins.” In their lore, the school trained thousands of Latin American right-wing military officers to torture and assassinate over the last 60 years.

After all, Latin militaries would not know how to torture and assassinate unless trained by the U.S. military.

Among the demonstrators this year was former Presbyterian Church (USA) moderator Rick Ufford-Chase, who marched but declined to get arrested along with sixteen others who, as part of their annual ritual, crossed illegally into Ft. Benning.

“It's an opportunity to be faithful to what we're hearing from our Latin American sisters and brothers in Central America, Colombia and Venezuela who are insisting that the school, whatever it maybe doing now, stands for torture across the region and it has to be shut down." Ufford-Chase told Presbyterian News Service.

In other words, no matter what the school is doing, let’s shut it down, because of what its critics of the left claim it did in past decades.  But even the left’s evidence about the school’s past is based more on phantom fears than hard facts. Over 60,000 Latins have attended the school. Critics of the school point to dozens of graduates who have been implicated in human rights abuses. Ipso facto, these graduates must have must have learned their dirty techniques while spending several weeks in Georgia.

Fifteen years ago, the school’s so-called “torture” manuals were exposed. They were, in fact, old manuals left over from the 1960’s and briefly available at the school. Out of 1,100 pages, only a page and one half of two dozen mostly ambiguous phrases were deemed offensive. One phrase suggested that a drunken insurgent is more likely to talk. Another mentioned the possibility of hypnotism or a "truth serum." Still another spoke about mailing threatening anonymous letters to insurgents. Threats to arrest relatives were cited as one form of potential intimidation.

The closest endorsement of torture was a phrase that referred vaguely to "information obtained involuntarily from insurgents who have been captured." More typical in the manuals is a warning that an interrogator should not: "be rude, or impolite...make fun of the interrogee...Lose his temper...Use profane language...[or] Argue."

In 1991, the manuals were recalled by the U.S. Army. But whatever the manuals’ improprieties, they hardly offered guidance about torture techniques.

For this reason, groups like “School of the Americas Watch,” which organizes the annual protest marches and provokes arrests, rarely quote directly from the “torture” manuals. They prefer that readers just assume that the banal text books included “how to” advice about thumb screws and Chinese water torture. Predictably, the Presbyterian News Service matter-of-factly reported that the school has “offered instruction in practices such as extortion, execution and torture.”

The protests against the school are largely based on symbolism and ideological imagery. The now aging enthusiasts who championed Salvador Allende and the Sandinistas, and who still tout the nearly expired Fidel Castro, have channeled much of their remaining energies into closing the school at Ft. Benning. They are still mourning the failure of the old Left in Latin America, which they fault exclusively on U.S. covert action and repression techniques taught to proxies of the U.S. during the 1970’s and 1980’s. Strangely, the old Left in the U.S. has not been able to transfer its full enthusiasm to the New Left in Latin America, embodied by Hugo Chavez.

Or maybe it’s just a matter of old habits and personal comfort. Ufford-Chase called the demonstration outside Ft. Benning a “comfortable place” for his Presbyterian Peace Fellowship, because the event is “entirely peaceful, non-violent [and] worshipful.” Indeed, for much of the Religious Left, opposing U.S. imperialism and championing old Marxist causes is the closest they come to worship.

Among the demonstrators who slipped under a chain link fence in their pursuit of a martyr’s arrest was Presbyterian minister Donald Coleman from Chicago. He’s looking forward to his day in court. “I see the trial as not a trial for me, but a trial for the atrocities that the School of the Americas has performed against people in Latin America,” Cook explained. His Presbyterian denomination officially endorsed closing the school in 1994.

Leftist clergy like Cook are especially drawn to School of the Americas Watch, which is headed by Maryknoll order priest Roy Bourgeois. Bourgeois is a former U.S. Navy and Vietnam veteran who joined the radical Catholic order in the 1970’s and immersed himself in Liberation Theology, living in Bolivia and El Salvador, before founding his organization. Its offices are conveniently located across the street from Ft. Benning. Bourgeois, a true believer, has spent several years in federal prisons for his various demonstration arrests outside the school.

Presbyterian activist Ufford-Chase told his church’s news service that he is excited about the Democratic take-over of Congress, because the Democrats might close the school. A vote in the U.S. House of Representatives to shut down the school failed by 16 votes earlier this year. "I think there's a good chance that with the Democratic Congress that by next year we'll be ready to go and celebrate instead of having another protest,”  Ufford-Case said. “I'm quite optimistic."  

He should. Those who care about America's security in its own hemisphere may entertain different feelings.

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Mark D. Tooley is president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy. He is the author of Taking Back the United Methodist Church.

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