On April 10, 2011, 27 activists laid down in a “die-in” at the White House to stand up to the US Army School of the Americas (now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation).
Facing criminal charges of failure to obey a lawful order and blocking and incommoding, 15 of those activists came to court in Washington DC today. But defendants Alice Gerard, Ann Tiffany, Chris Gaunt, David Barrows, Ed Kinane, Eve Tetaz, Jack Gilroy, Judith Kelly, Maia Rodriguez, Megan Felt, Nico Udu-gama, Paki Wieland, Priscilla Treska, Sarah Sommers and Scott Wright instead chose to put the School of the Americas on trial.
Defendant Ann Tiffany of Syracuse, New York, has been arrested multiple times during acts of civil disobedience to protest the School of the Americas.
“I’ve been arrested twice here in Washington, twice in Georgia. I’ve been arrested in Syracuse, New York — where I’m from — to speak out against the school,” Tiffany said outside of the DC Superior Court. “Words are important, but sometimes you just have to put your body where your strong beliefs and concerns are, just to make your point.”
Founded during the Cold War to teach Latin American soldiers ‘counterinsurgency’ techniques to fight communism, School of the Americas graduates have since been implicated in some of the most egregious human rights violations in Latin American history, including the murder of Jesuit priests in El Salvador, the massacre at El Mozote, military coups in Chile, Argentina and Honduras and the torturing of dissidents in Colombia, among many others.
“The anti-insurgency tactics being taught to Latin American military to go back and oppress their own people in the interest largely of US corporations and the oligarchies that these us corporations support,” said defendant Ed Kinane of Syracuse, New York.
Recently, 69 congressman wrote a letter to President Barack Obama asking him to close WHINSEC permanently and save American taxpayers $180 million over the next 10 years. The letter cited the Pentagon’s “rejection of public accountability and transparency” for its decision not to release any of the names of its instructors or students during the past five years. The letter asserts: “in 2006, abruptly and arbitrarily, the Pentagon decided to alter the nearly 60 year precedent of providing to the public names of students and faculty at the school; instead, classifying these names and not even granting their release under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).”
“Most American people don’t have a clue what’s being done in their name and done with their tax dollars,” Kinane said.
Under pressure from Congress and human rights activists, the School of the Americas was closed briefly in 2006 before the Pentagon re-opened it only one month later as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.
“This new school was then called it the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, and those of us who knew what it was said ‘Different name, same shame,’” said defendant Jack Gilroy of Endwell, New York. “Changing the name was like pouring perfume on a toxic dump.”
Activists and congressional representatives who signed the letter said closing the school would send the right signal: “For many families and human rights organizations in Latin America, the school is a symbol of the worst aspects of their violent and/or authoritarian histories. Closing it would be a welcome signal about America’s continuing commitment to protect and [promote human rights and the rule opf law. We therefore urge you to cease all funding for any further operations of the WHINSEC as quickly as possible.”
“We’ve lost their respect. I think closing this school would help them to be our neighbors instead of our enemies,” said Tiffany.
School of the Americas Watch, a nonprofit dedicated to ending militarization in the Americas and closing WHINSEC, said it expects tens of thousands of activists to converge on the gates of Fort Benning, Georgia during its annual vigil November 18-20, 2011.