By Nick Braune
The School of the Americas (SOA) housed in Fort Benning, Georgia is sometimes called the School of Assassins. Over recent decades it has taught “counterinsurgency” techniques, torture, surveillance, and assassination skills to Latin American soldiers. I interviewed Dr. Guy Hallman, a scientist and a political activist from McAllen who recently returned from the Georgia protest.
Author: Guy, I know that you and your wife have just returned from the annual School of the Americas protest, and judging from the SOA Watch website, it looks like it was a success this year.
Hallman: Every year the numbers grows. This year 25,000 protestors attended. The SOA is widely known for causing damage in Latin America, and the blowback hits us. US citizens have been killed by SOA graduates in El Salvador, for instance, and SOA grads have put their US taxpayer-funded education to the service of drug lords in Colombia and Mexico. Why is the U.S. still funding this school?
Author: I know you have traveled to Fort Benning, Georgia each November for several years. What is it about this event that attracts you?
Hallman: I keep going back because it is the premier annual progressive event, as far as I know. Although the main issue is closing the SOA — our side was only 11 votes shy in the House this year — many other issues are raised during the four day event.
For instance, our group from the Valley brought the No Border Wall issue to the SOA and got a very good reception. The Immokalee farm laborers from Florida were present. (There is a Valley group supporting those farm workers by protesting Burger King for not raising the wages of tomato-pickers.) There were workshops on defeating torture, on anti-military recruitment, building coalitions, nonviolent resistance training, etc. There were movie screenings. I counted over 100 events not including the main march on Sunday! So, it is an important, well-rounded, progressive event.
Author: Who were some of the other attendees?
Hallman: Well, two presidential candidates were there: Democrat Dennis Kucinich of Ohio and Green Party candidate Cynthia McKinney. (SOA protest pictures are on the Green Party website right now.) Congressman Jim McGovern, who is the chief sponsor of bills to close the SOA, was also present.
A group of 27 came from St. Joseph Academy in Brownsville. There are many other interesting people there. There was one person who is suing the Fort Benning base for all the restrictions they are imposing on demonstrators. He was seen engaging military guards in conversation through the 3-layer fence, but he scared them off instead. It seems if the guards can’t shoot somebody, they don’t know what to do.
Author: The SOA protests used to be viewed as mainly a Catholic event, but it is a lot wider now, isn’t it?
Hallman: Yes, and the fact that the SOA was founded by a priest, Fr. Roy Bourgeois, may even keep some away who do not wish to identify with his church. The church might be seen as losing its way since John Paul II was elected pope; I mean, look at what a bad job our local bishop Pena is doing on justice issues — but I digress. Surely many Catholics are there, but people of different faiths or no faith participate in the event and have major roles in it.
A prominent rabbi, Michael Lerner, for instance, spoke about the Network of Spiritual Progressives (spiritualprogressives.org) urging a strategic vision of a progressive future. It is not enough to attack the badness of Bush, etc., but we must offer a replacement. I can’t do his presentation justice in this short space, but check his website.
Author: I understand the local police are always dreaming up some new rule for the demonstrators, and they even had a rule limiting the sizes of crosses people could carry. [Many demonstrators carry crosses with names of people killed by SOA graduates.]
Hallman: Yes, the cops always have something new, trying to keep us afraid and in line. Oh, and this year there was a counter-demonstration, “God Bless Fort Benning” day. “Dr.” Laura Schlesinger was there, dressed in cammies, for the “God Bless” event. Some of her ravings were disgusting.
Author: Yes, she is a joke. If she was their highlight, their counter-protest was pretty pathetic.
Hallman: The “God Bless” rally with Laura Schlesinger, was corporate sponsored (defense contractors “giving back” a little, but with tax deductions), but if not for some soldiers there [for free food], no one would have joined Dr. Laura’s counter-protest.
Author: Thanks, Guy, for this interview. And I thank the 25,000 protestors at the School of Americas (School of Assassins) this year.