Back to School


One popular cause during the last several years has been the drive to close the School of the Americas, a training center for Latin American soldiers in Fort Benning, Georgia. The school's alumni include former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, former Haitian dictator Raoul Cedras, and Salvadoran death squad chief Roberto D'Aubuisson, along with many less-famous autocrats, assassins, and thugs. Critics have long charged the institute with teaching torture, terrorism, and politically motivated murder.

These charges were bolstered in 1996, when some of the school's manuals came to light. The Pentagon subsequently admitted that the texts discussed such techniques as "motivation by fear, payment of bounties for enemy dead, false imprisonment and the use of truth serum," while denying that the materials were still in use. (Prior to this, of course, the military had denied that such texts existed at all.)

In May, as the argument grew more audible, Congress stepped in and shut down the School of the Americas. In the same breath, it opened the Defense Institute for Hemispheric Security Cooperation, which will teach the same curriculum to the same people, in the same place. Amazingly, this was packaged as a reform, but Sen. Paul Coverdell (R-Ga.) wasn't fooled–the changes, he told the press, were "basically cosmetic." This was an impressive admission, given its source: Coverdell, who died of a stroke in July, had long opposed closing or seriously reforming the school.