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Torture's Roots Run to Washington

Erik Cooke / Op Ed News | April 12 2006

The recent United Nations report that the United States military is torturing detainees at the Guantánamo military base is profoundly troubling. The implications are dark, dangerous, and immediate for the detainees, the people of the U.S., and the state of international human rights. Declaring individuals enemies of the state and subjecting them to indefinite detention in torture camps, despite legal obligations to the contrary, is perilously close to despotism and does not reflect the aspirations or actions of a democratic regime.

As troubling as these accounts of U.S. government sanctioned brutality are, they are not surprising to the people of Latin America. Since 1946, the U.S. has put its official seal of approval on torture by Latin American militaries at the Army’s School of the Americas (SOA). There, the U.S. has trained more than 60,000 members of Latin American militaries in torture, psychological warfare, interrogation, and counterinsurgency. Graduates of the SOA (renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation) have frequently been connected to human rights violations and the repression of social movements in Latin America. These graduates have been implicated in the disappearance, massacre, rape, and torture of thousands of Latin Americans. There is no denying the U.S. approved the techniques used by these graduates; in 1996 the school’s training manuals were declassified shedding light on the torture techniques taught at the school.

SOA graduates are integral to the long, brutal line of torture and secret detention by regimes throughout Latin America. The unimaginable horrors suffered by our sisters and brothers in Latin America are tragic examples of vicious government repression, and contrary to every ideal of peace and human rights. We must never forget the suffering of thousands at the hands of the Somoza regime in Nicaragua, the systemic torture under General Ríos Montt in Guatemala, or the atrocities that continue to be committed by the Colombian military.

Torture is not only a breach of international and U.S. domestic law, but also a violation of basic human rights to which every human being, regardless of nationality or criminal status, is fundamentally entitled. Torture strips away the humanity of those who commit it and the dignity of those who endure it.

The U.S. government must heed the mounting calls to close the detention center at Guantánamo. It should also renew a commitment to upholding human rights by disavowing torture in all its forms. The U.S. additionally must end the training of Latin American militaries in torture practices, particularly as epitomized in the training at the SOA. U.S. policymakers have the ability to right these wrongs and send a message of hope and dignity to our citizens and friends throughout the world.

In February 36 nonviolent peace activists were convicted for trespassing and one for aiding and abetting while protesting against the SOA and its legacy. There is something seriously awry when peace activists are jailed for speaking out against a legacy of torture while not a single high-ranking government official has been punished for these crimes against humanity. Hopefully, our government will realize the error of its ways sooner rather than later.


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