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While the US commits 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan, in part to seek out terrorist training camps, many in the US and Latin America are demanding that President Obama shut down what they believe is a terrorist training camp run on US tax dollars, the School of the Americas. One such person is Pablo Ruiz, who spoke to The Real News during his first-ever trip to the US, where, as a survivor of torture carried out by SOA graduates, he is laying out his argument for the immediate closure of the school.
Watch out for Part Two of this interview later this week, addressing the school’s current focus and the movement to shut it down.
JESSE FREESTON, TRNN: Since 1946, the US Pentagon has operated a military training center for Latin American soldiers known as the School of the Americas, ranging from torture to mass killing [snip] Latin American soldiers in what it refers to as “counterinsurgency operations.” The school has become a focus of attention as many of its graduates have been found to have committed a range of crimes in their home countries, ranging from torture to mass killing. Panama’s Manuel Noriega, Argentina’s Leopoldo Galtieri, and Guatemala’s Ríos Montt are just three of the ten Latin American dictators who attended the School of the Americas before seizing power by military coup. In some cases, entire elite units have been trained at the school, such as El Salvador’s Atlacatl Battalion, responsible for various war crimes, including the killing of at least 1,000 civilians over a three-day massacre in the town of El Mozote and the 1989 assassination of six Jesuit priests, their coworker, and her daughter. The Real News spoke to Pablo Ruiz, a member of the Chilean chapter of the organization School of the Americas Watch. Pablo is visiting the United States for the first time to demand that President Obama close the school, so that no more Latin Americans endure what he experienced when he was just 20 years old, when agents of Augusto Pinochet’s military regime detained him for spray painting anti-government graffiti.
PABLO RUIZ, SCHOOL OF THE AMERICAS WATCH (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): I was a prisoner in 1989 and 1990 under the government of General Pinochet. I was tortured, electrocuted, and beaten brutally. When democracy returned to Chile, I regained my freedom, and a civil tribunal declared me innocent of all charges that the police had pressed on me. Given my experience, when I discovered in 2000 that Chile was still sending soldiers to this institute in the US, the School of the Americas, as a victim of torture I said that this was a scandal. It is a scandal that Chile continues to send soldiers to an institution that has taught torture.
FREESTON: The same torture tactics that Pablo was exposed to can be found within the school’s training manuals that were declassified by the Pentagon in 1996. Pablo spoke to us just hours after reading the manuals in person for the first time during a visit to the National Archives.
RUIZ: I’ve read the manuals. It fills me with sorrow to confirm with my own eyes that it teaches soldiers to murder, to torture, to make people disappear. When you read them, you realize, you understand why the military in Latin America have done what they’ve done. They were trained to make people disappear, to torture, and all the rest.
FREESTON: But according to Pablo, the school teaches more than just tactics; it promotes a specific philosophy.
RUIZ: The School of the Americas, from my point of view, continues to promote the worn-out idea of the national security doctrine, teaching the soldiers, directly or indirectly, to view students, workers, peasant farmers as potential enemies, at which point the battle isn’t outside the border but inside it. This is why it is common in Latin America—in Mexico, in Chile, in various countries—to see the military or the police repressing demonstrations. This is a product of the teaching of the national security doctrine.
FREESTON: In reviewing the declassified manuals, the definition of potential targets includes “…local or national political party teams, or parties that have goals, beliefs or ideologies contrary or in opposition to the National Government.” According to the manuals, even electoral politics are considered insurgent activity. The manual states that “[Insurgents] can resort to subverting the government by means of elections in which the insurgents cause the replacement of an unfriendly government official to one favorable to their cause.” According to Pablo, getting information on the school’s activities is getting increasingly difficult.
RUIZ: In the past, the US government published the list of the Latin American soldiers who attended the school. For us, when there was a human rights violation, we would check the list to see if the soldier or police officer was involved with the School o the Americas and human rights violations. Through this proces, we realized that one out of every four members of Pinochet’s secret police attended the School of the Americas. Today, the pentagon provides the list, but it is blacked-out. One cannot find out who is going to the School of the Americas; therefore, one cannot investigate whether or not those soldiers that come to the School of the Americas are currently committing human rights violations. In Colombia, the principal country sending soldiers today, there are large numbers of human rights abuses. For us it is necessary that the names be published. For this reason, I don’t believe that there is transparency, and the United States must declassify the names of the Latin American soldiers that are coming here.
FREESTON: The worst allegations of what is taught at the school have been confirmed in testimony by former instructors like Major Joseph Blair.
From “The New Patriots”
JOSEPH BLAIR, EX-US ARMY MAJOR: I served in the United States Army from 1968 to 1989. My very last assignment was as a political military officer and instructor at the School of the Americas from 1986 to 1989. I served with a US Army officer who both developed the curriculum to teach torture techniques, physical abuse, false imprisonment, infiltration of unions.
RUIZ: The objective is to have countries that respond to US interests. Should they distance themselves, they launch a coup d’etat, like in the case of Venezuela, where we all know that the soldiers that participated in the attempted coup were taught at the School of the Americas. In Chile, why are so many soldiers still coming to the school? Because the US wants to ensure that if Michele Bachelet begins to reform the neo-liberal system, clearly, they will mobilize these soldiers to overthrow the government. These days, fortunately, the military is operating in accordance with the law. But you can be sure that if Michele Bachelet were to begin reforms like the ones Hugo Chávez is carrying out, obviously they will bring about a coup d’etat. The history of Latin America serves as the proof: coups, invasions by the dozens. This is in the interest of the Department of Defense, of the Pentagon, and the interest in having this school to have contact with the military. And what is it all for? To protect the interests of the large corporations, of the large economic interests, not to protect the ordinary and needy people of the United States. The US, in the middle of a crisis, is spending so much money on this military institution. That money should go to the youths in the street with drug addictions, to attack poverty, to dedicate resources toward employment. How does the US have the luxury of spending its resources and taxes on a military academy that only reflects terribly on the US?
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.