In a long, 200-year history of US interventionism, covert action and troubling support for repressive regimes, the story of the US Army School of the Americas (SOA) at Ft. Benning, Georgia, stands out as a grotesque example of militarism run amok.
Since its inception in 1946, the SOA – or as critics often referred to it, “the School of Assassins” – has epitomized America’s peculiar brand of “outsourced imperialism.” The list of leaders dispatched by the SOA, the catalogue of criminal indictments and the not-insignificant death tolls tallied in SOA-linked civil wars and so-called “counter-insurgencies” is, for lack of a better word, impressive.
For the last 25 years, the school’s critics – ranging from religious activists to members of Congress to indigenous rights’ leaders - have regarded its programs, and theinfamous training manuals made public in 1996, as uniquely responsible for theterrible consequences - unintended or otherwise – of America’s long-standing policy of arming, training and dispatching generations of military leaders around Central and South America.
Simply put, the School of the Americas exemplifies everything wrong with US foreign policy after World War II. All too often, that policy favored vested interests in client states, assisted corporations coveting resources in so-called Banana Republics or simply allowed knee-jerk, anticommunism to trump the rights and democratic choices of those who invariably ended up on the receiving end of SOA training in places like Guatemala, El Salvador, Chile and Colombia.
According to a Congressional Research Service report from 2001, between 1946 (when the first iteration of the school was established in the Panama Canal Zone) and 2001 (when the Ft. Benning version was officially “closed”), the US Military instructed “over 60,000 officers, cadets, and noncommissioned officers from both Latin America and the United States.”