By Manuel E. Yepe
A CubaNews translation.
Edited by Walter Lippmann.
“Despite the impressive legal and institutional framework established to prevent it, the practice of torture remains widely tolerated or even used by governments, and there is still impunity for its perpetrators”.
So it was admitted by the United Nations Secretary General in the appeal issued every year by this organization ever since December 12, 1997, when its General Assembly passed Resolution 52/149 proclaiming June 26 International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.
For a long time, the widespread, standard use of cruel and repressive methods, and especially the torture of prisoners, was held to be indigenous to prisons and military garrisons in Latin America during the second half of the 20th century.
Nowadays, however, there’s no doubt about the origin of actions and concepts that divorced the Latin American peoples from their soldiers and turned torture into a daily practice against the population.
When news –including pictures– on torture and other forms of inhuman treatment used by the U.S. army against prisoners in Iraqi jails and the detention center they illegally keep in areas of Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay, old reports pointing at the School of the Americas (SOA), set up in Panama in 1946, began to take full credit.
Around those days, in 1947, the U.S. government also set in motion its gloomy, official criminal organization called Central Intelligence Agency, bound to write, in the region and the world over, the dirtiest chapters of abuse, barbarism and terror humanity has ever known.
Up until 1963, the SOA was named Latin American Training Center – Ground Division, reportedly designed to train acting military leaders and qualify new ones needed by armies throughout the continent.
After the triumph of the Cuban Revolution in 1959, it took on more specific responsibilities as a result of the failure in the island of the center’s highly favored strategies. Now it would be used to train cadre called to stop the Cuban example from spreading across Latin America.
The space for “representative democracy” was considerably curtailed while military dictatorships mushroomed all over the region. Democratic traditions like Chile’s and Uruguay’s were no more respected than the size of mega-nations like Argentina and Brazil.
The SOA played a significant role as part of this ‘firm hand’ policy and its dreariest expression, the ‘Operation Condor’, for which it trained leaders, organized death squads to oppose insurgency, and designed interrogation and torture techniques.
Various dictators, chiefs of police and notorious torturers who played a decisive part in Operation Condor came from the SOA, many of whose professors and advisors took part in the dirty war against Latin America.
In 1984, following the Torrijos-Carter agreements and the signature of the Treaty on the Panama Canal, the SOA was relocated in Fort Benning, in Columbus, Georgia.
In 2001, owing to the huge wave of reports that the U.S. Congress had been receiving since 1999 to denounce the content of the torture training manuals that it used to train its students, the SOA’s request to operate was turned down.
The Pentagon “obidiently” renamed the school Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation and made some cosmetic changes to conceal the most serious human rights violations that were a commonplace occurrence in its premises.
Whether cases of torture in secret prisons should be treated as confidential information is now under debate in the U.S., and in the meantime the world is witnessing in astonishment how Richard Cheney, who was vice president until a few months ago, openly defends the use of torture against prisoners and even demands more publicity for the ways such inhuman treatment redounds for the benefit of his country in order to gain more popular acceptance of that torment.
Beyond denunciations and protests about this practice, the world should also worry about saving another victim of torture: the American people, now faced with the morally degrading fact that so many of their young soldiers are being forced to inflict suffering on other human beings or trained for that purpose.
Por Manuel E. Yepe