The case for abolishing the Army School of Americas
October 1997

What follows is part of a presentation by Norm Balabanian on the Army School of Americas (Columbus, Georgia). He will give a full presentation on the School on Wednesday, Oct. 22 at 8 p.m. at the Civic Media Center, 1021 W. University Ave. (373-0010.)

A contingent of Veterans for Peace from Gainesville plans to participate in a November 13-16 demonstration at Fort Benning, Georgia, on the 8th anniversary of the massacre of six Jesuit priests and two Salvadoran women coworkers in El Salvador by soldiers led by graduates of the US Army School of the Americas. People from all over the country are planning to participate in that demonstration. For more information call Veterans for Peace at 495-2135.

The predecessor of the School of the Americas (SOA) was established as the Latin American Training Center-Ground Division in the Panama Canal Zone in 1946. Its importance to US policy might be appreciated by noting that's a year before the CIA and the NSA were created. It became the SOA as we know it in July 1963 with Spanish as the official language. When President Carter in 1977 negotiated the treaty under which the Canal Zone would revert to Panama in 1999, part of the deal was that SOA leave Panama; it was moved to Fort Benning, the US Army base in Columbus, Georgia, in 1984. In view of the unsavory role it has played in training assassins, torturers and other such rogues, it deserves to be terminated with extreme prejudice. (That's the terminology of the CIA Phoenix Program in Vietnam under which 50 thousand village leaders were killed.)

Since its inception, many of its 60,000 graduates have led or participated in countless atrocities committed against the people of their countries. They include 10 officers who became presidents of their respective countries: Manuel Noriega/Panama, Hugo Banzer/Bolivia, Leopoldo Galtieri/Argentina, Humberto Regalado/Honduras. None of them were elected; all took power by illegal means. Graduates also include 23 ministers of defense and others who attained less lofty positions, such as the bloodthirsty Salvadoran death-squad leader, Roberto d'Aubuisson. Those Latin American countries with the worst record of human-rights abuses have sent the most officers and police for training at SOA...

The training manuals used at SOA gave specific instructions in how to hold prisoners in clandestine jails and to use threats of force on them, how to "neutralize" political opponents, how to infiltrate and spy upon civilian organizations and opposition political parties, and other human-rights abuses. This was sort of admitted by the US Army in September 20, 1996, when the manuals were declassified and publicly released, and confirmed by the Pentagon's Inspector General in a report on February 21, 1997. Earlier, things had gotten so bad in El Salvador that the United Nations established a "Truth Commission" to investigate. Among the details, it reported on March 15, 1993 that 74% of the military officers it found to have participated in rape, assassinations, murder, torture, and massacres during El Salvador's "dirty war" were SOA graduates.

The US Army absolved US officials from any responsibility for the SOA manuals when it released them in September 1996. The Pentagon Inspector General's February 1997 report declared that this was the right thing to do, even though passages in these manuals--such as references to false imprisonment, executions, beatings, blackmail, payment of bounties for "enemy" dead--violate US policy. The report said that "mistakes" led to the inclusion of "objectionable" information in the SOA training manuals - and there were just a few of them anyway.1 It acknowledges that, following an investigation into the manuals in the final years of the Bush administration in 1991-1992, little corrective action has been taken to ensure that such abhorrent training materials will no longer be used.

Lest you believe that those running SOA are unique rogues, you should be reminded of the CIA training manual used to train Nicaraguan Contras, outed in 1984, that caused a considerable stir at the time. Now we have two other CIA manuals declassified on January 24, 1997. One of these, "KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation" is dated July 1963. The second one: "Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual", is based heavily on the first one. It was used in at least seven training courses conducted in Latin American countries between 1982 and 1987. These manuals are even more obviously unprincipled than the Army manuals. Furthermore, the SOA manuals were also used by mobile training teams in the countries themselves, not just at Fort Benning.

According to Latin American Working Group (LAWG) the entire framework of the SOA (and CIA) manuals is inconsistent with, and a direct contradiction of, democratic standards and values. "In the name of defending democracy, the manuals trained Latin American militaries in profoundly anti-democratic methods."

"The seven army manuals train Latin American militaries to infiltrate and spy upon civilians, including student groups, unions, charitable organizations, and political parties; to confuse armed insurgencies with legal political opposition; and to disregard any laws regarding due process, arrest, and detention. What the manuals leave out is as important as what they include; what they leave out is any understanding of democracy and the rule of law."

Take spying on opposition political parties. When Richard Nixon ordered such spying on an opposition political party, he was saved from impeachment only by resigning the Presidency of the US, an unprecedented act in US history. Yet, the US Army taught Latin American trainees not only to spy on opposition political parties but that such parties were "the enemy" and anything done to them was acceptable. No actions have been taken, nor are any contemplated, against those responsible for the production and use of such profoundly undemocratic materials. Nor is anything being done to ensure that such materials will never again be put to use.

In their pre-Fort Benning history, training manuals were produced by Americans in English and then translated into Spanish. DoD claims that the originals no longer exist. The present English versions are the US Army translations of the Spanish translations. That explains their many awkward phrasings.

American Mythology
It is important to place the School of the Americas in perspective. The existence of the School of the Americas and the nature of the instruction carried out there are not aberrations, something that can be dismissed as a failed initiative of an otherwise benevolent American system. What happened at SOA has to be understood in terms of deliberate policies established by the post-WWII US national security apparatus; in the broader context of the images most Americans have of their political/economic system; and of what is hailed as the American Dream. This ethereal, theological concept, the American Dream, is assumed to have an uplifting, liberating, ennobling, moral quality but it is more like a nightmare--a debilitating and ignoble nightmare.

More than anything else, the American Dream was founded on acquisitive greed and irresponsibility; two of its operative concepts were frontier and expansion. Whatever else the concept of frontier implied, it meant that other people were "barbarians" whom Americans had a mission to civilize; whose lands were available for Americans to expand into. Far from being peace-loving, Americans have always been violent and expansionist. One of the slogans of American leaders in the 19th century was "extending the area of freedom". Operationally this meant forcibly displacing the Native Americans from their lands. Treaties were made with Indian nations only to be broken...

"Extending the area of freedom" also meant territorial conquest at the expense of Mexico. Vast areas that include Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, California, and parts of Colorado were taken from Mexico by simply claiming a "manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions."4 The US has always been oriented to the acquisition of a world empire.5 In this it has been very successful. As even the highest government officials boast, the US with only some 4% of the world's population (in 1996) controls some 40% of all the world's resources.6

Whatever else "frontier" meant, it also meant that social justice, equity, and community were of no concern in the US; the "safety valve" of the frontier was always available to white men who lost out in the capitalist struggle for self-enrichment. The siren call to "Go West" and "strike it rich" could be counted on to defuse the contradictions that might otherwise build up between the dream and the reality: the reality of unbridled greed and a devil-take-the-hindmost attitude, of personal enrichment at the expense of shared community values.

Latin America and the US
All of the countries of Latin America(7) are underdeveloped countries in various degrees. In all but post-Revolution Cuba there exist vast concentrations of wealth in the hands of a few, while the great majority of the people are destitute. [The glittering luxury sections in the great cities of Latin America are surrounded by miserable barrios of tightly packed humanity. The campesinos have very little.] In Brazil, for example, 10% of the people own 90% of the land. In Guatemala the (US) United Fruit Company owns more agricultural land than 50% of the population combined.8 Nothing differs greatly from this in Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Paraguay, etc.

Large numbers of people in Latin America are hungry and have little work. Unemployment is very high everywhere, reaching 50% in Brazil's northeast. People seldom get medical care. Many of their children die young and their own life expectancy is low. Large numbers of them are illiterate. (Country-by-country figures are available in UNESCO reports.) With few exceptions, the land-owning, corporate, and military elite in the Latin American countries constituted the ruling classes and the people had little say, even under nominal democratic regimes, like Mexico.

For the US, Latin America has been a source of cheap raw material and agricultural products--more recently, also of cheap labor. From the mid nineteenth century, in alliance with local propertied elites, US Corporations have been acquiring Latin American lands and mines, and have been exploiting Latin American resources. They found it easy to deal with the corrupt rulers of these countries, obtaining huge concessions for the countries' natural resources in return for their support in maintaining the rulers in power, backed by the US military. This military force was used time and time again, not for the purposes of "freedom" and "self determination" so loftily proclaimed, but for simple economic imperialism. A small part of the truth in the early years of this century can be glimpsed from former US Marine Corps General Smedley Butler:

"I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenue in. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras 'right' for American fruit companies in 1903..." (War is a Racket, Crises Press, Gainesville, 1995)

This alliance of American economic interests and the ruling elites in Latin America in furtherance of their own interests benefited neither the people of Latin America nor that of the US. Whenever a nationalist democratic leader supported by the people has arisen and attempted to loosen the shackles binding his country to the US, the reactionary oligarchies could count on the US government to help overthrow him. The CIA was directly involved in overthrowing the freely elected Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954 (9). It was also instrumental in the overthrow of Joao Goulart in Brazil ten years later in 1964. US armed forces invaded the Dominican Republic in 1965 and directly intervened in preventing the return of the constitutionally elected government of Juan Bosch. In Chile in 1973, the US guided, supported and even justified the overthrow and assassination of the democratically elected socialist Salvador Allende. In all these cases the given reason was the charge of 'Communism' against the freely elected nationalist leader. The real reason is the interests of the corporate class in the US.

Very often, those in Washington or in the US embassies who are in the strongest positions to influence and shape US Latin American policies have had strong personal interests in those American companies operating in Latin America and dominating the economies of whole countries. Both US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles under Eisenhower, for example, and his brother Allen Dulles, Director of the CIA when the overthrow of the Guatemalan government was engineered in 1954, were former United Fruit Company lawyers. Furthermore, Allen had previously been President of United Fruit; his predecessor as head of CIA, General Walter Bedell Smith, became a vice president of United Fruit in 1955 when Guatemala was safely back under the control of American corporate interests. Can it be doubted that policies and actions carried out by the US government with such disastrous consequences for Latin America were greatly influenced, if not controlled, by the corporate interests of such individuals?

A particularly instructive case is that of the Rockefellers, Nelson in particular. The Rockefeller interests controlled the economy of several Latin American countries, including Peru and Venezuela. Creole Petroleum Company, for example, a subsidiary of Rockefellers' then-called Standard Oil of New Jersey, accounted for more than a third of Venezuela's oil, which made up 93% of Venezuela's export earnings. Nelson's own International Basic Economic Corporation in Peru ran a sugar mill, a chain of supermarkets, a poultry-breeding operation and an insurance brokerage business.(10) When Nelson Rockefeller was named Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs by Roosevelt in 1939, and later named Assistant Secretary of State, he was already a Director of Creole Petroleum. A person with such great influence in shaping US policy in Latin America had a tremendous personal and corporate interest in this policy. For whose benefit was Rockefeller shaping these policies?

The School of the Americas in Context
A lot of other things were happening in the early post-WWII years at the time the School of the Americas was established, including the creation of the CIA and the NSA in 1947. Policy decisions were being made that nowhere in the world, but especially not in Europe and the Western hemisphere, would any indigenous political forces be allowed to prosper that were not under the influence and control of the US. Money was poured into France to counter the leftist unions associated with the WWII French Resistance. To prevent any parties of the antifascist left from gaining control, our tax money bought the first post-war elections in Italy for the Christian Democrats. The CIA intervened in the civil war in Greece in favor of those who had collaborated with the German Nazis and Italian Fascists, helping to defeat the Greek partisans who had struggled in the anti-Nazi/Fascist Resistance. Other such interventions were carried out, including the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Mossadegh in Iran by the CIA under Kermit Roosevelt, a deed openly touted in his book.

From the earliest post-WWII days the US embarked on an "anticommunist" crusade. An "international communist conspiracy" was seen under every bed. The "domino theory" gradually dominated all US policy. If one country "falls to Communism", the theory went, all the neighboring dominos will also do so. This theory was never so clearly enunciated as it was with respect to Vietnam. As the Pentagon papers make clear, and as Robert MacNamara acknowledged was a "mistake" last year in his book, US policy planners claimed that if Vietnam goes Communist, then so will Laos and Cambodia, then Thailand, Burma, Malaysia and on west, and south to Indonesia. "Going Communist" would not be permitted by the US, most especially not by democratic, electoral means, as made clear in 1954 in Guatemala and, in that same year, in Vietnam. (The US subverted the Geneva Agreements of July 1954 on Vietnam at a meeting of the National Security Council just a few days later, on August 3, 1954, but that is another story.) I have never understood how democratically electing a socialist government is a "government takeover" while overthrowing such a government by force is democratic.

No, the anti-left (anti-Communist in particular) stance of the US was taken very early in the post-WWII era. It had little to do with the actions of the Soviet Union, a lot to do with capitalist ideology and the private interests of powerful individuals with major influence on US policies. The Dulles brothers, Nelson Rockefeller, Bedell Smith, Averell Harriman, Ellsworth Bunker are just prominent past examples in the Executive Branch. It is nowadays a major scandal how private interests control both the executive and the legislative branches. This cannot be written off as just a recent phenomenon; it was always thus but now more open for all to see. With the increasing dependence of office holders on the largesse of those who control capital, it may no longer be necessary for elected or appointed office holders themselves to have personal financial interests in the corporations, such as those previously cited. Ensuring one's political success by way of corporate purchase will also ensure one's personal financial success.

When the SOA was established in 1946, none of the countries of Latin America faced an external threat to their sovereignty, except possibly from the US, as amply demonstrated in the past. Although some had border disputes with a neighbor, training the militaries of both by the US could hardly be beneficial to these disputes. The real purpose was, and continued to be, counterinsurgency - to put down any threat to US economic interests by people disaffected by their miserable conditions of life, and to protect "vital national interests". What exactly are these vital national interests? Americans can't be blamed for thinking that these are: free speech and human rights for all, freedom to associate and to carry out political activity for everyone, the collective betterment of the totality of society.

In reality, though, US "vital national interests" are what those who have always been in control consider them to be: making the world safe for capitalist exploitation; the concentration in fewer and fewer hands of more and more of the earth's resources. Did you miss the news a month ago that the number of billionaires in this country had gone up in one year from 135 to 170, more than a 25% increase? (There are really more than that since the statistic is for individuals; families that are billionaires don't count.) The corollary to the increasing concentration of wealth and income in the hands of a few in the US is the pauperization of the many. That, too, has been documented.

Two years ago Representative Joseph Kennedy (D-Mass.) introduced a bill in the House to close the School of the Americas; it was voted down. He has now amended the bill to include two steps: closing SOA and opening an Academy for Democracy and Human Rights; it is now before the House. On September 4 this year the House voted on an amendment to the foreign aid bill that would simply have defunded the SOA. It lost by the very narrow margin of 210 - 217.

The School of the Americas is a component of the military forces of the US; it is not an independent organization pursuing its private goals. The removal of SOA does not necessarily mean that its functions would cease, only that these functions could be shifted elsewhere. Furthermore, from the point of view of the power structure, closing SOA at this time could be part of a strategy of damage control. Opponents of SOA, their objective achieved, might just go home, patting themselves on the back, leaving the authorities to carry on with business as usual, just not at the SOA.

Nevertheless, the elimination of SOA would have more than symbolic value for those Americans who are appalled by the inhumane actions supported and carried on by our government in our names. The greatest value would be in coming to view it as an initial success against the repressive capitalist forces that control this country, just a start in the long struggle to achieve the ideals of justice, equality and community.

Titles (in English) of the seven SOA manuals are as follows:
* Handling of Sources
* Counterintelligence
* Revolutionary War and Communist Ideology
* Terrorism and the Urban Guerrilla
* Interrogation
* Combat Intelligence
* Analysis I (This is a brief 60 pager, compared to over 1100 pages in the others. No "objectionable" phrases here.)

Relevant Dates Associated with School of Americas
November 16, 1989. Massacre in El Salvador of 6 Jesuit priests & 2 Salvadorans. 19 of the 26 individuals implicated by the UN Truth Commission were SOA graduates.

1991-1992. Bush administration review of training manuals.

March 1993. Report of UN Truth Commission implicating large numbers of SOA graduates in atrocities, including the El Mozote massacre in El Salvador and many others.

September 20, 1996. Release of the seven SOA training manuals and issuance by the Pentagon of a minimizing "Fact Sheet" about them.

January 24, 1997. Declassification of two CIA training manuals in response to Freedom of Information Act request by the Baltimore Sun in 1994.

February 21, 1997. "Mistakes" admitted, Department of Defense Inspector General's report.

September 4, 1997. House vote to defund SOA lost: 210 - 217.

Much of my information about SOA and the SOA training manuals (as well as CIA activities in Guatemala and two CIA manuals) comes from:
(a) Lisa Haugaard's analysis of the manuals for the Latin American Working Group (LAWG), a coalition of over 60 nongovernmental groups (;
(b) School of the Americas Watch (;
(c) the June 28, 1996 Report on the Guatemala Review by the Intelligence Oversight Board (that makes passing reference to the SOA manuals, resulting in the subsequent uproar and investigation); and
(d) Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, School of Assassins. Maryknoll, NY : Orbis Books, 1997.
(2) Project X was the US Army's Foreign Intelligence Assistance Program, providing training to US allies around the world, not just Latin America. Project X materials had been retained in the files of the Army Intelligence School at Fort Huachuca, Arizona.
(3) See the well-documented account of US government perfidy vis-a-vis Indians by Richard Drinon, "Violence in the American Experience: Winning the West" in Radical Teacher, New University Conference, December 30, 1969. See also Vine Deloria's Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto, NY : Macmillan, 1969.
(4) Howard Zinn, A People's History of the United States, NY: Harper & Row, 1980, p 149.
(5) William Appleman Williams, The Roots of the Modern American Empire, Random House, 1969.
(6) In 1948 George Kennan, then head of the US State Department planning staff, put it this way: "We have 50% of the world's wealth, but only 6.3% of its population." See Nelson-Palmeyer.
(7) Latin America will be used generically to represent South and Central America and non-colonies in the Caribbean.
(8) Thomas and Marjorie Melville, "Guatemala: Analogue to Vietnam", New Politics, Vol 8, Winter 1969. The Melvilles, a former Catholic priest and nun, respectively, served as missionaries in Guatemala for a total of 25 years between them. They were expelled from Guatemala in December 1967 for being sympathetic to the plight of the peasants and for denouncing US interference in Guatemala.
(9) This is no longer denied by the US. Here's how it is put by the INTELLIGENCE OVERSIGHT BOARD Report on the Guatemala Review, June 28, 1996. "In 1954, as the communist party gained increasing influence in the Guatemalan government headed by President Jacobo Arbenz, the US assisted in the overthrow of the Arbenz government." The US didn't just "assist", it planned, trained the over-throwers in the US, supplied weapons and means of transportation to reach Guatemala, etc. The resulting illegal government then ensured the continuing good fortunes of United Fruit and other US corporations.
(10) David Horowitz, "Rocky Takes a Trip", Ramparts, August, 1969.

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