I am a Guatemalan Jesuit and anthropologist. I wrote the book "Massacres in the Jungle" and worked as a priest for five years in the Ixcan, an area devastated by the war in Guatemala. Together with other civilians, I experienced constant bombings by Guatemalan pilots. We were pursued and murdered by the army, whose officers were directly or indirectly trained in the U.S Army School of the Americas (SOA).
An editorial in favor of the SOA appeared on Sept. 15 and was distasteful to me for three main reasons:
Adding new human rights classes to the SOA curriculum and streamlining the manuals are not enough. Nothing guarantees that the same counterinsurgency doctrine will no longer be taught. Who's to say that the same U.S. officers who did torture training earlier this decade do not continue to teach there or that the same repressive spirit is not communicated by their successors?
The SOA is a symbol that strengthens unrepentant officers in our Latin countries who were responsible for massacres and who are still a force to be reckoned with on the political scene. This is especially true for the Guatemalan military. Keeping the SOA symbol alive means emboldening the still powerful antidemocratic sectors of society. In spite of the SOA's stated intentions, the underlying message sent to Latin militaries by keeping the school open is: "You were right, in certain circumstances, torture was (and is) acceptable."
Reformed or not, the SOA continues to be an instrument that serves to build links among Latin American armies and makes them dependent on the U.S. military. This should not continue. Why not a United Nations school for military officers who would be trained not only to respect human rights but to understand military power as absolutely subservient to civilian authority?