In narrow victory, House agrees to reform U.S. military school
BY ANA RADELAT
Special to The Herald
WASHINGTON -- A controversial U.S. military school attended by
officers survived another attempt by opponents to close it down when the House
this week decided to change its name and revise its curriculum instead.
The House rejected on a narrow 214-204 vote an effort to shutter
the School of the
Americas for at least 10 months so that Congress could review its operations.
Instead, it approved a plan promoted by Secretary of the Army Louis Caldera
aimed at modifying the school's training plan and burnishing its image.
Caldera's proposal, approved Thursday as part of a defense authorization
would keep the school at Fort Benning, Ga., but rename it the Institute for
Professional Military Education and Training and shift control of the school from
the Army to the Pentagon.
The bill now goes to the Senate.
The House-passed legislation would eliminate controversial courses
psychological and commando operations, replacing them with classes on
international law, disaster preparedness and counter-narcotics operations. Human
rights training would also be required. Moreover, a new civilian board would
oversee its activities.
But the reforms don't go far enough to satisfy critics who have
charged that some
of the training center's graduates -- including former Panamanian leader Manuel
Noriega and the murderers of four American nuns in El Salvador -- are among the
worst human rights abusers in Latin America.
Rep. Joe Moakley, D-Mass., who led the fight to close the School
Americas, said the changes approved by the House were ``like putting a perfume
factory on top of a toxic waste dump.''
``The fact is . . . the school has been associated with some of
the most heinous
crimes that this hemisphere has ever endured,'' Moakley charged.
But the school's supporters argued that the school should not
because its 54-year history includes a few bad graduates.
``The Unabomber went to Harvard, and we're not talking about closing
Harvard because he committed those atrocities,'' said Rep. Sonny Callahan,
Joy Olson, director of the Latin American Working Group, a coalition
nongovernmental organizations that have lobbied to shut down the School of the
Americas, said she's disappointed that the Pentagon decided against making
``What I had hoped for is that the Army would come up with a radically
institution, a facility that would address the process of democratization and the
role of the military in a democracy,'' Olson said.
Army spokeswoman Maj. Meredeth Bucher replied: ``The Army remains
committed to supporting our nation's goals of supporting democracy and human
rights, promoting stability and partnering to respond cooperatively to regional
The Associated Press contributed to this report.