November 20, 2008 found over 100 Sisters of Mercy, Mercy Associates, Colleagues and Students departing from all over the United States to converge at Ft. Benning, Georgia to participate in educational activities, attend seminars, and hear speakers relate the history of those trained at the United States Army Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, formerly the School of the Americas (SOA).
Mid-Atlantic Community Participants at the SOA Vigil
The Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation
Chaplain Kieser escorts us on the tour of the SOA
Provide professional education and training to military, law enforcement, and civilian personnel of the Western Hemisphere within the context of the democratic principles of the Organization of the American States (OAS)
Foster mutual knowledge, transparency, confidence and cooperation among participant nations
Our group asked many questions about recruitment, attendance at the school, countries who send trainees, courses offered, training manuals used, and ethics taught. Our host’s response was that torture was not taught but that interrogation techniques were.
The position of the United States Government is that only “honorable’ training is conducted here.
Members of our group respectfully challenged several of the things we heard. We questioned the torture taught in the training manuals, the deaths of the Jesuits, their housekeeper and daughter, the four church women, Archbishop Romero, without even asking about the thousands of others killed. The fact that the assassins were trained at the SOA seemed to have no bearing on these situations according to our host.
Jon Sobrino, SJ speaks to those attending the Pax Christi Gathering
Jon Sobrino, SJ, a widely respected liberation theologian, was born in Spain but has lived for over 50 years in El Salvador where he works among the poor.
Jon was a member of the local Jesuit Community in El Salvador whose six members, along with their housekeeper and her daughter, were murdered in 1989 by soldiers trained at the U.S. Army School of the Americas (SOA) in Ft. Benning.
Early on Sunday morning, November 23, 2008, thousands (an estimated 20,000) began gathering at the gates of Ft. Benning in preparation for the march. Incense was burned by a Native American and prayers were offered in remembrance of the thousands, and thousands murdered by death squads in Central and South America.
After two hours of continuous chanting of names, crosses were placed in the fencing surrounding Ft. Benning. The crosses bore the names of those whose deaths were recorded; thousands more were never found.
At the end of the solemn funeral procession as we departed from the gates of Ft. Benning, we were met along the road by puppeteers, mimes, and actors. Bodies were scattered across the road depicting the thousands of innocents murdered by the death squads .
Yet, in a sense, we were comforted by the words of Archbishop Oscar Romero, “I must tell you, as a Christian, I do not believe in death without resurrection. If I am killed, I shall arise in the Salvadoran people.’ --