No Place for a Bishop

National Catholic Reporter, October 21, 2005 | Go to article overview

No Place for a Bishop


Madison, Wis., Bishop Robert Morlino's acceptance of the Pentagon's invitation to join the advisory board of the infamous School of the Americas (SOA) successor military training facility is, at best, ill-considered (see related story on Page 3). At worst, it provides an imprimatur to an institution many church leaders rightly condemn.

Before Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib became synonyms for torture and prisoner abuse, the School of the Americas taught such techniques to the approximately 1,000 Latin and Central American military personnel enrolled each year at the Fort Benning, Ga.-based training facility. In 1996, school manuals on interrogation and counterinsurgency were released: They provided a road map to torture and terror for some of the most oppressive military regimes on the planet.

The school's alumni list is a who's who of 60 years of murder and mayhem: Panama's Manuel Noriega and Omar Torrijos, Argentina's Leopoldo Galtieri and Roberto Viola, Juan Velasco Alvarado of Peru, Guillermo Rodriguez of Ecuador and Hugo Banzar Suarez of Bolivia. Graduates plotted the assassination of Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero and the 1989 murder of 14-year-old Celina Ramos, her mother Elba Ramos and six Jesuit priests in El Salvador.

Those cases and the school's notable alums, however, are just the highlights of the destruction wrought by the School of the Americas. On a daily basis, in Guatemala and Colombia, in El Salvador and elsewhere, U.S.-educated graduates wage war against their own people.

In 2001, under relentless pressure from church activists and others, Congress pulled a fast one. Rather than close the school, it renamed it. Hence was born the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, which operates out of the same buildings as the School of the Americas and carries out essentially the same mission: Spanish-language training for members of the military in Latin and Central America.

As part of this alleged revamping, Congress required the institute to place human rights education into the curriculum; students now must receive eight hours (one whole workday!) of human rights training as part of their course work. …

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