Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Searching for Truth About School of Americas

A couple of days ago I posted, Have You Been to Jail for Justice? regarding the protest at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), formerly known as the School of the Americas (SOA).

In response to that posting, the public affairs officer, Lee A. Rials, responded in the comments section. I thought it important to give him an opportunity to respond and for the rest of us to ask some questions, if he is willing.

As this discussion raises emotions I request that we be cool. We don't want to bear false witness. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't ask hard questions. We should seek the facts. This is Mr. Rials' response:

For all you good Presbyterians who are willing to bear false witness against your fellow man--do a little serious research and put a little bit of truth in this discussion. SOAWatch is a fraud on all you who seek peace and justice, because its basic premise is false. There is not one example, from SOAW or anywhere else, of anyone using what he learned at the School of the Americas to commit any crime--not a single one! To say so is a moral libel of the Soldiers who taught there.

Think about it; the whole argument of SOAW is that any association with the SOA is proof of a connection to wrongdoing. The Army gave SOAW the entire list of students who attended SOA until it closed in 2000. Look at that list. You will see people who took one or two courses, most six weeks or less. Less than one percent of those people are accused of any crime, less than half that are accused of human rights crimes, and none are charged with a crime related to their studies.

The most absurd example? Leopoldo Galtieri was a 23-year-old lieutenant in 1949 when he took a 12-week course in engineer operations. Would someone like to link that to his part in the military junta 32 years later? Get real.

The protests go on quite legally in Columbus, GA. Those who trespass onto Ft. Benning are being cynically used by SOAW for publicity. That is the only result of their trespass, other than a certain federal conviction on their records.

I am the public affairs officer for WHINSEC, which replaced the SOA when it was closed seven years ago. Pres. Clinton signed the law that closed the one and created the other. I invite anyone to come see what we do. You don't have to stand at the gates of Ft. Benning. Show a photo ID and drive to our door. Sit in a class, talk with students and faculty, review our instructional materials. I'll introduce you to our chaplain, who happens to be endorsed by PC(USA).
Sincerely, Lee A. Rials

Here is the website for WHINSEC

School of Americas Watch SOAW

Here is the article I cited from the Presbyterian News Service

Here are a number of articles on the Witherspoon Society website including one by Doug King who attended the demonstration and visited the site to learn about the program.

Mr. Rials writes the following: "There is not one example, from SOAW or anywhere else, of anyone using what he learned at the School of the Americas to commit any crime--not a single one! To say so is a moral libel of the Soldiers who taught there."

Well, folks. Is Mr. Rials correct? If so, what is the reason to close this school?


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