To the Editor,
In my intent to support President Bush's desire to shut down all known terrorist camps, I would like to again cast light on the necessity that our nation must lead the way by example. If we are to expect that terrorism must not be tolerated or allowed, then we, as a democratic nation, must not allow any institute of terrorism to exist on our own soil. Yet, since 1946, the United States government, through our tax dollars and foreign policy, has supported terrorism, in the name of democracy. First called the School of the Americas (SOA), our own terrorist training institute was re-named the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHISC).
This institute had its beginning at a military training facility in Panama, but always with the financial backing of the United States military budget. Under the terms of the Panama Canal Treaty, the School of the Americas (now WHISC) was forced out of Panama in 1984. At that time, President Jorge Illueca, of Panama, called it the biggest base of destabilization in Latin America.
Since 1984, the school has been located at Ft. Benning, Georgia. It is here that up to 2,000 soldiers, from Latin America and the Caribbean, are trained each year. Now many may think this is acceptable, as our nation is helping to keep stability in these nations south of our border, by training their military personnel to defend their borders from foreign invasion. But this is not the case! Rather, soldiers at the SOA/WHISC are trained to defend their nation from their own people. But in "defending" their own country, these soldiers wield terror upon their own people---a people who rarely, if ever, have the capability of defending themselves.
Yet, advocates of the school state that the SOA/WHISC is a vital tool for implementing democracy in Latin America. Thus the institute is a key tool for U.S. foreign policy in Latin America. Ironically, of the ten SOA/WHISC graduates who the school boasts of becoming heads of State, not one of them took power democratically.
It is time for us, citizens of this great nation, to cry out, enough! As long as the SOA/WHISC remains open on our soil, with U.S. tax dollars supporting its existence, we undermine all our efforts to bring an end to terrorism in our world. I believe that as long as this institute continues to enjoy our support, terrorism against the United States has the great possibility of escalating. Does this really make our country, and world, a safer place to live?
Please join with me in seeking closure of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. Write to our U.S. senators and representatives, urging them to support bills in Congress that would shut down our biggest U.S. terrorist training institute.
Fr. Jim Stephens