Thursday, December 6, 2007

Students learn through experience on trip to SOA/WHINSEC

By Libby Perkins
Guest Columnist

On Nov. 15 a group of Saint Mary’s University students journeyed to Fort Benning, Ga., for the SOA/WHINSEC rally and vigil. The School of Americas (SOA), which was renamed to the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) in 2001, is a combat training school for Latin American soldiers. Students are trained with interrogation tactics, military intelligence, sniper training and psychological warfare.
Once SOA students graduate, they then return to various South American countries, including the Caribbean. As a result, there is much violence, suffering and death.

On our first morning in Georgia, we had the opportunity to see Fort Benning and had a Question and Answer session with some of the faculty from the SOA. During this time we had the chance to hear their view of the school. We had many questions, but we did not receive enough adequate responses. We then arrived at the rally which was filled with many different people expressing their opinions on the war, our president, our government and, of course, the efforts to close the SOA. Even with a wide range of people at this event, a wide range of ideas on our country and the issues that come with it, there is a common idea that makes this event possible. The SOA is serving no good and its purpose is killing too many innocent lives.

During the vigil the next day, we remembered millions of lives that had been killed by SOA soldiers – including our very own Saint Mary’s graduate, missionary Brother James Miller, who was known in Guatemala as Hermano Santiago. With a funeral procession lasting nearly two hours, we chanted “Presente” and lifted white crosses after the calling of every victim’s name. Children, unborn children, teenagers, adults, nuns, pregnant mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, and the list goes on. So does the school. Yet why? Why is the school still open? I can say that the trip was most definitely an experience, and the journey to close the SOA/WHINSEC will be a continuous one.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As the public affairs officer for WHINSEC, I applaud the students who actually come in to talk with the panel at the institute on Saturday. SMUMN students have been doing so for at least three years. However, judging from this commentary, not much has been learned. For instance, President Clinton and Congress created the institute in law seven years ago--that's more than a 'name change.' Students come from all over the region, including Canada, the US, and the Caribbean--not one of them attending either school has ever been shown to have used what he learned to commit a crime--not even one! To say so is a libel of the Soldiers who taught them. The SOAW is a fraud on your students who come here, because it makes a false claim--that any attendance at the SOA is 'proof' of any later criminal act. Do the research, learn for yourself. Lee A. Rials, WHINSEC PAO,