Army's controversial 'School of the Americas' to close Friday
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
The statement made no mention of the government's previously announced
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
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
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
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,
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
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
Protests drew 1,700 arrests last month
Last month, police arrested 1,700 protesters after they marched through
school's gates and demanded that the facility be shut down.
Those arrested included actor Martin Sheen, star of the television drama,
West Wing." An estimated 3,000 other demonstrators protested outside the
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,
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
"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'
The Associated Press contributed to this report.