The Public Square

Jan Kruse of Urbana on shutting down the School of the Americas


My name is Jan Kruse. I am a retired first grade school teacher. I am also a member of AWARE the local Anti War anti Racism Effort.

Why would over 20 people from the Urbana/Champaign community drive hundreds of miles in the middle of November to join 16,000 others to stand in front of a closed, locked and razor wire topped gate in the state of Georgia? The weekend before Thanksgiving this very event did indeed take place.

Just on the other side of this gate and the surrounding barb-wired fence a road leads to a special school. Starting 15 years ago thousands have come to stand vigil at this place. This year my husband, a friend and my 80-year-old father and I made the trip from Illinois.

We drove to the city of Columbus, Georgia and to Fort Benning, which houses this special school for training military personnel from the US, and from other countries in the Americas. The school is known as the School of the Americas. Perhaps you have not heard of it. Many say it is hidden in plain sight. Amnesty International has dedicated a major report recommending that this facility provide appropriate reparations for any violations of human rights training to which the SOA contributed, including criminal prosecution, redress for victims and their families and a public apology.

To quote the Amnesty International report it states "the US army school of Americas offered training and education to Latin American soldiers some of whom went on to commit human rights violations including the 1989 murder in El Salvador of 6 Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter. The School of America had used manuals that advocated practices such as torture, extortion, kidnapping and execution." SOA graduates include Rios Montt who lead the counterinsurgency campaign, in which hundreds of thousand of indigenous Guatemalan civilians were murdered, tortured and displaced. Recently this facility underwent a name change to The Western Hemisphere Institute for Security and Cooperation. However, those who stands outside the gates at Fort Benning are not convinced anything other than the name has changed. We are still calling it the SOA: School of Assassins.

In light of what we have recently learned about the treatment of detainee in Iraq and Guantanamo I am unconvinced that the US is not still sanctioning the use of torture in regard to those we are holding prisoner in various places around the world.

The group that gathers each year at the gates of Fort Benning are calling for its closing and for holding the school accountable for the past and possible current practices that have been committed by those trained by the US military in our name and with our tax dollars.

Now that you are aware of this facility maybe next year you might consider joining people just like yourself from this community as they converge at the gates of Fort Benning to demand that the gates be opened and the school for torture training inside be forever closed. Torture training is not a moral value.