Controversial 'School of the Americas' Closes

ByABC News
December 14, 2000, 3:52 PM

Dec. 15 -- A U.S. army facility critics have labeled a school for dictators, torturers and assassins is being closed today.

The School of the Americas, in Fort Benning, Ga., which has for 54 years operated as a training facility for Latin American military personnel, will shut its doors after facing criticism from human rights groups for years.

The list of graduates from the School of the Americas is a whos who of Latin American despots. Students have included Manuel Noriega and Omar Torrijos of Panama, Leopoldo Galtieri of Argentina, and Hugo Banzer Suarez of Bolivia.

Other graduates cut a swath through El Salvador during its civil war, being involved in the 1980 assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero, the El Mozote massacre in which 900 peasants were killed, and the 1989 murders of six Jesuit priests.

On Jan. 17, the school will reopen in the same location, to be run by the Defense Department rather than the Army. It will be known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.

In an article distributed by the SOA, Army Secretary Louis Caldera said he hoped the move would end years of acrimonious debate over the school.

But critics say the military is doing nothing more than changing the name of a school that over the years has won the moniker School of the Assassins.

I am worried that nothing will change, said Rep. Joe Moakley, D-Mass., who spearheaded the effort in Congress to close the school.

In one month, the School of the Americas with a new name will reopen in the exact same place, it will train the exact same Latin American soldiers, but I sincerely hope some of its graduates will not go on to commit the exact same horrendous human rights violations, Moakley said.

The School of Americas Watch activist group, which over the years has staged numerous protests outside its gates, said it would step up its campaign to close the new institute as well.