December 12, 2000

Army's controversial 'School of the Americas' to close Friday

                  From CNN Military Affairs Correspondent Jamie McIntyre

                  WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Army plans closing ceremonies Friday for its
                  controversial "School of the Americas," nicknamed the "School of the Assassins"
                  by critics who allege the school provides military training for leaders who are
                  responsible for human rights abuses in their own countries.

                  An Army announcement Tuesday said simply: "The U.S. Army School of the
                  Americas, located at Fort Benning, Georgia, is closing its doors after 54 years of
                  distinguished service."

                  The statement made no mention of the government's previously announced plans
                  to reopen the school in January under a new name, "The Western Hemisphere
                  Institute for Security Cooperation."

                  Army officials hope that changing the Georgia school's name and making sure its
                  curriculum stresses civilian control of the military and respect for human rights
                  will blunt some of the criticism that has dogged the school for more than a

                  Opponents of the school have said the changes will only be cosmetic. They vow
                  to continue protests.

                  Critics have charged for years that some of Latin America's most notorious
                  human rights abusers are among the school's 65,000 alumni.

                  Army chief says decision was 'a difficult one'

                  The Army says that it will conduct a closing ceremony at the school on Friday at
                  10 a.m. and that Secretary of the Army Louis Caldera will speak at the

                  Caldera, who as recently as last month was vigorously defending the school, said
                  Tuesday that "the decision to close USARSA (U.S. Army School of the
                  Americas) was a difficult one.

                  "Since its creation, the school has been a major contributing factor to the
                  success of U.S. foreign policy in the Latin American region," Caldera said. "The
                  school and its graduates have done so much to foster a spirit of cooperation
                  throughout the hemisphere, but as our region turns to face the new challenges of
                  the 21st century, it is time to move forward by closing one successful chapter in
                  the story of our cooperation and mutual interchange, and open a new and
                  different one."

                  Protests drew 1,700 arrests last month

                  Last month, police arrested 1,700 protesters after they marched through the
                  school's gates and demanded that the facility be shut down.

                  Those arrested included actor Martin Sheen, star of the television drama, "The
                  West Wing." An estimated 3,000 other demonstrators protested outside the
                  school's gates.

                  Most of those arrested were charged with trespassing, given a warning and
                  released, Army officials said.

                  The protests have been held every year since 1989. They commemorate the
                  November 16, 1989, killings in El Salvador of six Jesuit priests, to which some
                  of the school's graduates have been linked.

                  Military officials have dismissed critics' charges as absurd.

                  "I'd characterize it as false and as propaganda," Maj. Gen. John LeMoyne, the
                  post commander, has said.

                  Defense Department to run new school

                  The new school will be run by the Defense Department, under guiding principles
                  of the Organization of American States.

                  But Ray Bourgeois, a leading critic of the school, has said opponents won't let

                  "We see this as cosmetic," Bourgeois, a co-founder of School of the Americas
                  Watch, said last month. "It's like taking a bottle of poison and writing 'penicillin'
                  on it."

                                The Associated Press contributed to this report.