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Why Do So Many School of the Americas Grads Become Latin Death Squad Killers?

If the Pentagon’s instructors didn't teach assassination at the School of the Americas (SOA) in Fort Benning, Georgia, is it just coincidental that so many of its star pupils graduate to become mass murderers?


Take the strange case of Francisco del Cid Diaz, an SOA-educated second lieutenant in the El Salvadoran army who ordered his unit to drag 16 people out of the Los Hojas cooperative of the Associacion Nacional de Indigenas, beat them, shoot them, and dump their bodies into the Cuyuapa River.

Not content with his SOA undergraduate studies, Diaz re-enrolled after the massacre and was accepted again in 2003. By then the Pentagon had renamed SOA The Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, (WHINSEC) as Latins joked SOA stood for “School of Assassins.”

Perhaps the most infamous Salvadoran SOA grad was Major Roberto D’Aubuisson, who ordered the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero and who operated a death squad that used blowtorches on his victims. D’Aubuisson might not have learned to use this device at SOA, of course, as he also attended the CIA-run International Police Academy in Washington, one of the classier D.C. "finishing" schools.

It might just be that some weird metaphysical force beyond human understanding has been attracting thousands of criminally insane military officers like Diaz from all over Latin America to Ft. Benning---and that they were psychiatric basket cases before they flocked there. That’s unlikely, of course, as a WHINSEC official claims “only personnel of unquestionable character” are admitted to study.

Yet, it’s odd that case after case -- hundreds of them, really -- keep popping up in which perfectly mentally competent SOA/WHINSEC alumni after leaving Georgia have gone stark raving berserk once they got home, overthrowing governments and filling elected officials full of bullet holes. Didn’t Georgia’s “old sweet song” mellow them even a teensy-weensy bit?

Two of SOA’s more notorious alumni, Generals Roberto Viola and Leopoldo Galtieri, both of whom trained at SOA in 1981, went on to become dictators during the “Dirty War”, in which 30,000 Argentines were put to death. The generals were assisted by five other SOA grads and when civilian rule was restored Viola was sentenced to 17 years for his crimes. Who’s to say, though, that he learned his grisly trade from the Pentagon? He could have gotten his ideas just as well from studying Hitler’s “Mein Kampf,” right?

Then there’s Bolivia. In 1980, SOA alumni General Garcia Meza Tejada assaulted the National Palace and forced the president to resign. His top aide, Luis Arce Gomez was also an SOA alum as were seven other coup criminals. In Brazil, the human rights group Torture Never Again linked 20 SOA graduates and two SOA instructors to crimes including false imprisonment, and torture methods such as electric shock, suffocation and other methods too nauseating to iterate.

In Colombia, half of some 250 officers cited for human rights violations in 1993 took advanced education at SOA. After his involvement in the 1988 Uraba massacre of 20 banana workers, the massacre of 19 business executives, and the assassination of a city mayor, General Faouk Yanine Diaz was a guest speaker at SOA in 1990, apparently so good he was brought back for an encore next year.

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Another SOA grad, General Jorge Plazas Acevedo, was tried for the 1998 kidnapping and murder of Jewish business leader Benjamin Khoudari, and Col. Jesus Maria Clavijo, another SOA grad, stands accused of 160 murders during 1995-98. Yet another SOA grad, General Montoya Uribe, ran a “scorched earth” campaign in Putumayo.

It is well known that after the CIA overthrow in 1954 of Guatamala’s president Jacobo Arbenz, more than 200,000 civilians were killed. Not as well known is that SOA graduates there created vigilante squads responsible for starring roles in the slaughter. One SOA grad, General Efrain Rios Montt, who seized power in a coup, wiped out more than 400 Mayan villages, killing thousands and forcing hundreds of thousands of people from their homes. Involved also were SOA grads General Angel Rodriguez, defense minister, and Colonel German Barahoma, National Police director.

In Peru, six officers educated at SOA were among those that burst into the men’s dorm at La Cantuta and dragged off six students and a professor that were “disappeared.” One of the SOA goons, Vladimiro Torres, went on to run the notorious “Colina” death squad and became head of the National Intelligence Service(SIN). His boss, Alberto Fujimori, of course, has just been convicted of humanitarian rights abuses, including massacre.

The above treatise is a short list of the achievements of SOA/WHINSEC which, for my nickel, President Obama could shut down tomorrow on suspicion that it has been teaching militarists how to turn their homelands into living hells. Of course, maybe the new forward-looking president might consider reviewing the alleged crimes of the SOA grads repetitious and boring.

It does seem ironic, though, that the U.S. military, which preaches bravery, should be instructing officers in how to assassinate unarmed archbishops and priests whose principal “crime” has been advocating for Latin America’s poor---the banana pickers, copper miners, and tillers of the soil, etc.

Information for this article was taken from legal documents submitted to a Federal judge by Louis Wolf, a resident of Washington, D.C., currently under six months’ house arrest for his disrespectful, non-violent trespass at Ft. Benning, Georgia, last November. Sentenced to prison at the same time by Federal Judge G. Mallon Faircloth of the U.S. District Court of Columbus, Georgia., were Father Luis Barrios, of North Bergen, New Jersey, an Associate Priest at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, Manhattan; Theresa Cusimano, J.D.; seminary student Kristin Holm, of the Lutheran School of Theology, Chicago; Sister Diane Therese Pinchot of the Ursuline Sisters of Cleveland; and Viet Nam veteran Al Simmons, a retired pre-school teacher of Richmond, Virginia.

It’s a curious society that imprisons pacifists for trespass on military property where murder and torture allegedly are being taught to thousands of future Latin killers while a past president apparently guilty of a million murders walks free. Of course, the Pentagon may not be teaching anything criminal at Ft. Benning: the outcomes could all be one big coincidence, no es verdad?

Sherwood Ross

Sherwood Ross is a veteran reporter and public relations consultant. He formerly worked for the City News Bureau of Chicago, the Chicago Daily News, and as a columnist for wire