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The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

Tax-funded terror: Valuing profit over people


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I rolled into Columbus, Georgia, around 3 a.m., and even with darkness as its guise, the symbols of oppression were inescapable. From a confederate flag-wielding pick-up-truck to the heavy-duty armory store on Ft. Benning Road the vibes were harsh and off-putting.

Every year, activists gather in Columbus to protest the School of the Americas (now known as WHINSEC), which is a combat training school for Latin American militia members. The school was established in Panama in 1946 to counter possible communist movements but eventually became a large component of anti-drug and anti-immigration movements. Under the Panama Canal Treaty of 1984, the school was expelled from Panama only to be     reestablished in Ft. Benning the same year.

In 1996, the Pentagon was pressured to release the contents of training manuals used at the school, many of which included torture tactics. On top of this, numerous graduates have been accused of human rights violations since SOA opened its doors. The most prominent case was the murder of six Jesuit priests and two acquaintances on the University of Central America campus in El Salvador. Of the 27 killers, the United Nations identified 19 as SOA graduates.

In 2001, because of harsh criticism, SOA officially changed its name to WHINSEC (the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation). The name change did little to alter the curriculum. WHINSEC graduates continued to violate human rights on a mass scale, all funded by our              tax dollars.

This year I decided to check out the protests conducted by SOA Watch myself. The weekend began on a Saturday morning with a caravan to Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia. According to SOA Watch, Stewart is the largest for-profit prison in the U.S. “Inside, approximately 1,800 men await their deportation proceedings…98.5 percent of the detainees are eventually deported.”

We then gathered outside the base to hear personal accounts of the school’s reign of terror from speakers and musicians. The day ended with informational seminars on everything from grassroots movements to socialism in America.

Sunday eventually rolled around and offered the perfect way to end the weekend. A vigil was held outside the base to commemorate those who died at the hands of the U.S. military. Not only those who died as a direct result of the maliciously trained militia, but also those murdered at our border in an effort to escape the miserable conditions we have created in Latin America. We marched around the grounds singing a song about the dirty war, placing a cross with the name of a victim in the fence each time we went around. As we made our last lap, a brave protestor scaled the fence and uncovered the sign that said “School of the Americas,” engraved in cold stone, further proving that WHINSEC had not changed at all.

It astonished me that such a well-organized event had flown under the radar for over 25 years. What is it about this movement that is allowing it to go unnoticed by the masses, and more importantly, how is it that people do not see how dire this issue is?

Our tax dollars are being used to train cold-blooded killers. According to the Analytical Perspectives book of the Budget of the United States, Fiscal year 2015, 45 percent of our federal income tax dollars go to military spending. For 2015, this is a predicted $1.3 billion. Instead of using this money to improve education or healthcare, we are using it to promote government-authorized violence.

Military spending is the largest contributor to our deficit, and while it may create jobs, those same jobs can be created through social programs. The main argument in favor of military spending is that it is necessary if we want to keep our country safe, but how can we ignore the fact that it is creating uninhabitable conditions within our borders? Mental institutions have been defunded, we have the highest incarceration rate in the world, the education system is flawed, healthcare is unaffordable and the homeless population has skyrocketed.

Then there’s the issue of immigration. We are creating deplorable conditions south of the border, and when people flee their homes to escape terror we deny entry and force them to return to the brutal conditions we created.

Our unforgiving sense of nationalism has allowed SOA to operate for all these years. We are living in a country in which we care more about our flag than we do about the people bleeding on it. The desire for “safety” has allowed human rights violations to flourish without question. We must ask ourselves how “just” our society really is. Why do imaginary borders divide us so deeply that we can justify the murders of those not born on American soil? Paul Farmer said it best, “The only real nation      is humanity.”

We have become so blinded by the bounty of our economic system that we forget to question it. Valuing profit over people has allowed these atrocities to occur since the founding of America in 1776. SOA is one of the most volatile examples of these American atrocities and it continues to thrive without question.

It is up to us to put an end to the components of our government that allow suffering on such a mass scale. Whether it is in the form of protest, lobbying or raising awareness, something needs to be done today. We are living a lie. This is anything but just. We must understand that above all else, we are human beings. If we ever want peace, if we ever want justice, we have to put our differences aside and do what            is right.

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  • L

    Lee RialsFeb 18, 2015 at 1:10 pm

    Your article came to me via Google Alert, and, while I have had interactions with DePaul students and faculty before, have never directly invited you to come see the Institute for yourself. For the past couple of years, some people associated with DePaul have come, but only on the Friday before the protest, so don’t spend much time. You are welcome to come any workday, stay as long as you like, and make your own evaluation. The biggest misunderstanding of WHINSEC (and the schools before it) lies in the use of the term ‘graduate,’ suggesting a long term curriculum. All these schools are professional; students come to a course related to their jobs, and when the course is complete, return to those jobs better prepared to do them. Note that no one ever makes a connection between what is taught here, or when, and the acts of these ‘graduates,’ because there is none. For example, what do you suppose the Motor Officer Course Hugo Banzer took in 1956 had to do with his dictatorship 15 years later, or even his presidency 30 years later? The associations are all just that absurd, but don’t take my word for it; check it out for yourself.l

  • S

    Sane Human BeingFeb 17, 2015 at 11:35 pm

    Good to know that intelligent people speaking out against tax-funded torture training are being threatened by uneducated, nationalist pigs. Keep the American spirit alive buddy.

  • G

    Glen GangesFeb 17, 2015 at 4:04 pm

    My suggestion for the author is to take the next flight to Syria, Libya or anywhere else in the Middle East. If you make it back with your head attached or not burned alive then you can report on the US military. Your account of US military “murders” speak volumes of your immaturity and ignorance of the evil that exists in this world.