The military strategies of the School of the Americas, used for decades to support dictators and block political opposition in Latin America, are now being applied to repress and punish dissenters in the U.S. Even as opposition rises to the school’s human rights abuses south of the border, Congress and President Obama are modeling the same line of attack, with expanded military tactics against U.S. citizens and other residents.
The School for Murder
The Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), formerly called the School of the Americas (SOA), is a combat training institute for Latin American soldiers located in Fort Benning, Ga. The school came to media attention in 1996 after the Pentagon unveiled a curriculum that advocated execution, extortion, and torture.
SOA’s name change to WHINSEC in 2001 was made after numerous protests in the U.S. and Latin America exposed its violent character. Yet there is no evidence that WHINSEC practices are different from the violent past of the SOA.
For instance, although the U.S. officially “deplored” the 2009 overthrow of the democratically elected president of Honduras, it was WHINSEC graduates who spearheaded the ousting. Honduran pro-democracy resistance groups say that today SOA/WHINSEC graduates prop up an administration that increasingly represses human rights activists, journalists, and social movements.
SOA boasted on its Web site that it had “defeated” many critics of the school who identified with Marxist Liberation Theology. Graduates certainly murdered prominent advocates of that philosophy. Some instructors’ duties include repression of socialist parties; Lt. Col. German Barriga in Chile was implicated in the 1976 disappearance of the Chilean Communist Party leader Jorge Muñoz, who was never found.
Since the 1970s, atrocities by SOA students have rapidly multiplied. Violent political repression is common from attendees. Ample information has been gathered by SOA Watch, available at www.soaw.org.
But there has been no serious attempt by Congress to close down the school despite its bloody record.
SOA-style Political Repression in the USA
Instead of closing the school, the U.S. is increasingly copying SOA/WHINSEC strategies to quell domestic political dissent. Consider the Patriot Act of 2001. Antiwar activists, Muslims, and other dissidents were among the most targeted victims of the ensuing FBI raids, spying, and civil liberties violations. The act has been renewed every time it is slated to expire.
Then there is the military’s Total Information Awareness program to amass huge databases of information on all U.S. residents. Even though it was shut down, a congressional report concluded that the program has continued under other names.
Documents recently uncovered through the Freedom of Information Act reveal that the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force investigated activists who revealed abuse of animals on factory farms. The animal rights protesters entered properties, and videotaped and publicized the awful conditions. The report states that although the acts were a form of nonviolent civil disobedience, they were a violation of the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, and agents recommended prosecutions for terrorism. So causing a corporation economic losses due to protest is now to be treated as an act of terrorism!
Democrats and Republicans are accomplices in squelching political opposition. For example, both parties have restricted protests at their national conventions to distant “free speech zones.” With the help of the FBI and Obama’s Attorney General, Eric Holder, the 2008 Republican National Convention has resulted in grand jury witch-hunts and the prosecution of antiwar activists who organized rallies.
The 2010 arrest of Bradley Manning shows the looming threat of a police state for whistle blowers. Pfc. Manning was charged for allegedly sharing documentation of war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan with the information-sharing Web site Wikileaks. Manning was held in solitary confinement for months, prompting worldwide outrage.
The War on Dissent Ramps Up
On December 31, Obama signed into law a bill that allows preventive detention of “terrorist suspects” on U.S. soil. Under the National Defense Authorization Act, the military has the power to hold indefinitely any person considered a “threat to national security.” Suspects, including U.S. citizens, can be detained in secret without trial, knowledge of the charges against them, or legal counsel. The law gives the military new authority to act against civilians inside the country.
December 2011 also marked the first time Predator drones were used in the U.S. against civilians (except at the border). Drones are unmanned, remotely controlled military aircraft. They were originally introduced in combat in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, to conduct spying and fire missiles.
Drones were originally approved for the Customs and Border Protection Agency in 2005 with little publicity. A neglected provision in the Customs and Border budget request to Congress stipulated that drones could be used for “interior law enforcement support,” which made them available to police without new laws or regulations, discussion or debate.
AeroVironment, Inc., the leading producer of small drones, stated in their 2011 Annual Report that future profits are likely to come from domestic use.
Federal agents continue to spy on, and raid the homes of, antiwar activists and those in the Muslim community. There has been a nationally coordinated effort to evict, often-violently, demonstrators across the country staying in Occupy movement encampments.
Fighting State Terror Tactics
Bills have been introduced in Congress to end SOA/WHINSEC, as well as to make the instructors and curriculum transparent. Protests take place every year at Fort Benning to expose the school’s destructive role in Latin America and call for shutting it down.
Public pressure in Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay, and Venezuela resulted in pledges by these governments to stop sending students to the school and a strong movement is underway in Chile to demand the same.
It is past time for similar protests of School of the Americas-type tactics in the U.S. SOA/WHINSEC, the FBI, Republicans, Democrats, and corporations are linked together in their ambition to extinguish political dissent. A coalition of labor, Occupy, antiwar, environmental and animal rights activists engaged in a united fight can destroy the police/military policies and profit driven system that dictate our lives.
• This article was first published at Freedom Socialist newspaper, Vol. 33, No. 1, February-March 2012