Close this school now!

"What if I told you that your government, the best one that money can buy, spends more than $20 million each year on a special school that helps train right-wing Latin American military types to commit atrocities against their own people?

Granted, you haven't read much about it in the Monica Daily Tattler or whatever your daily fishwrapper-on-the-doorstep is called. That's true, even though this Atrocity Academy is located in the good old U.S. of A. That's true, even though thousands of folks, many from Detroit, showed up to protest ten days ago.

Yet it exists, indeed; the U.S. Army "School of the Americas," now at Fort Benning, GA. Originally, it was in Panama, but the government there kicked it out in 1984, calling it the "biggest base for destabilization in Latin America." So naturally, we took it in. Today, your tax dollars are at work training thugs and past and future death squad denizens in counterinsurgency operations, psychological warfare, sniper tactics and God knows what else.

The dishonor roll is long; graduates were involved with the murder of six Jesuit priests and two women housekeepers in El Salvador in 1989. Others helped kill Archbishop Oscar Romero and four U.S. churchwomen in 1980. Others have been linked to drug trafficking and charges the school is used to launder drug money.

What in the hell are we doing? The official line is that the school helps "promote democratic values and respect for human rights." Unfortunately, no one with an IQ higher than that of a 25-watt light bulb believes that. Perhaps the school's two best-known graduates are Manuel Noriega, the pineapple-faced ex-Panamanian dictator, and Roberto D'Aubisson, the inventor of the Salvadoran death squads, who, thankfully, is now dead.

Naturally, back in the good/bad old days, we could always use the Reds as an excuse. Remember, that senseless twit Ronald Reagan used to babble that the Nicaraguans were a mere day's drive from Harlingen, Texas. The Reds are gone, but the School of Assassins is still "training" some 700-2,000 soldiers a year. Training them to fight who?

Bill Carry, a former auto exec, pressed a U.S. diplomat on this.

"Finally he admitted it was to build ties between our military and theirs," in case we ever need to make sure they do the right thing. Such as put down some leftist uprising that might threaten the property of the multinationals.

Incidentally, Bill, who with his wife Mary founded the Peace and National Priorities Center of Oakland County, is living proof that being a car guy doesn't automatically mean being a political nitwit.

Thirteen years ago, Bill left his auto job to work full-time for peace and justice. They have traveled the globe and been arrested in some of the best places: the White House; the Nevada Nuclear Test Site; and of course, Fort Benning.

Ten days ago, he went back to Fort Benning. So did Brad van Guilder, a former physics professor who is now state organizer for Peace Action of Michigan, more than a few of his sidekicks, and at least 38 IHM nuns -- Immaculate Heart of Mary -- of Monroe.

Their numbers included 83-year-old Elizabeth LaForest, who did a hitch in the Peace Corps in the '70s; the always inspirational Rudy Simons, and another nun, Barb Beesley. "Why are you going down there?" I asked a couple weeks ago.

"It is important to stand up for what you believe in. It is important to name injustice, to look it in the eye, and speak the truth. To stand for people who are poor."

Fortunately, even in the present era, not everyone thinks an atrocity like this is a brilliant idea. Last year, folks from all over the country came, and 601 crossed the line and risked arrest for "trespassing"; many were, indeed, arrested. They were warned that if they did it again, they'd face six months in jail. Organizers this year hoped as many as 1,000 people might cross the line, show how they felt, risk the slam.

Surprise. The turnout Nov. 22 was huge -- more than 7,000, of whom 2,339 trespassed on a chunk of U.S. soil reserved for Latin American killers. "We completely overwhelmed the capacity of the army to cite and process us," said van Guilder. "They briefly detained us, loaded us onto buses, drove us to a city park a few miles away, unloaded us," and gave each of us a generic ban and bar letter," he chuckled.

The marchers walked four abreast back to the base, to give the attendants more grief. Say what you will about the Kennedys; for four years, U.S. Rep. Joseph Kennedy (D-Mass.), son of Bobby, has tried to close this nest of vipers by cutting off their funding. He came damn close in September, losing only 212-201. Kennedy is leaving Congress and won't be around to try again, so someone else must. Here's a suggestion: Write, call, or give a semaphore signal to your congressman, strongly advising he or she oppose the School of the Americas. If you are reading this Wednesday, Bill and Mary Carry will present a program on the school from hell, tonight at 7:30 at St. John Fisher Parish near Oakland University. Otherwise, call 248-683-3363 for more information. This is one, I think, that the good guys can win. I know they damn well better. 

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