The Philadelphia Daily News
Friday, May 2, 1997
Section: EDITORIAL OPINION
By Jack McKinney
PROBLEM WITH SOA TRAINING IS IN THE EXECUTION
Rep. Joseph Kennedy II is attempting to shut down the U.S. Army's School
of the Americas at Fort Benning, Ga., and he needs all the help he can
The Massachusetts Democrat has been trying since 1993, when he lost a bid
to cut the ``school's'' $2.9 million budget from the defense appropriations
bill by 72 votes out of 430. But he has vowed to keep trying until the
rest of Congress gets it right.
Joe Kennedy is not anti-education. It's just that he feels calling the
SOA a school is like calling Heidi Fleiss a mother superior.
As the National Catholic Reporter newsweekly points out, the School of
the Americas has been more aptly called an ``academy of torture,'' whose
Alumni Hall of Fame is considered by critics to be a virtual Who's Who
among Latin-American dictators and military strong men.
In my own reporting from Central America, I don't think I ever came across
a major atrocity that didn't bear the prints of SOA graduates, including
the slaying of those six Jesuit priests in El Salvador.
I remember the case of John Sullivan, a free-lance journalist from New
Jersey who was kidnapped by security forces the night he arrived in San
Salvador. I became close to his family and I was outraged to learn a man
from the U.S. State Department had told them their Johnny was ``probably
up in the mountains with the guerrillas, gathering material for a book.''
(In other words, his kin were expected to believe the journalist had drawn
on the vast array of local contacts that a man with limited command of
Spanish could develop in his first two hours in a strange country!)
In fact, Sullivan was mistaken for a Belgian missionary priest who was
thought to be aiding the guerrillas and he was subjected to torture
techniques taught at the School of the Americas.
By the time his interrogators realized no man could endure such agony
without imparting some information, the journalist was too disfigured to
be set free. So they staked him out with a stick of dynamite tied to each
ankle and each wrist, and jammed another stick of dynamite into his mouth,
thinking they would blow away John Sullivan's identity forever.
With no assistance from the State Department, the family was reduced to
pleading for information via paid ads in Salvadoran newspapers.
A troubled policeman finally disclosed where the body had been discarded,
X-rays of an old football injury confirmed the identity, and at least Sullivan
could be brought home to rest in the family plot.
Most other victims have not been so favored. Like Father James Carney,
a Chicago-born Jesuit who disappeared in 1983 in Honduras. The old reliable
State Department obligingly retailed the Honduran government line that
Carney starved to death while hiding in the mountains with guerrillas.
Finally, former Honduran intelligence officer Florencio Caballero, who'd
fled to Canada, revealed the American priest had been tortured and flung
out of a helicopter by the army's killer unit 3-16. According to Caballero,
the torturers were Maj. Oscar Hernandez, Capt. Juan Ramon Pena and Lt.
Segundo Flores. Records show all three are SOA alumni.
Carney, who'd extended forgiveness to his torturers by blessing them, was
thrown out of a helicopter supplied for that sole purpose by Gen. Walter
Lopez, also an SOA grad, after the method of execution was specifically
ordered by Gen. Gustavo Alvarez, whose portrait hangs in the School of
the Americas Alumni Hall of Fame.
And as a final sickening touch, the same year Father James Carney was tortured
and killed in such a horrific manner by his SOA-trained thugs, Gen. Alvarez
was awarded the Legion of Merit by a grinning, vacant- eyed President Ronald
Reagan ``for promoting democracy in Honduras.''
Tell your person in Congress to help Joe Kennedy close that rats' nest
at Fort Benning now!
Jack McKinney is a veteran Philadelphia journalist and former radio
H. R. 611
School of Americas Watch