The Miami Herald
May 20, 2000

 In narrow victory, House agrees to reform U.S. military school

 Special to The Herald

 WASHINGTON -- A controversial U.S. military school attended by Latin American
 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 bill,
 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 on
 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 of the
 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 be condemned
 because its 54-year history includes a few bad graduates.

 ``The Unabomber went to Harvard, and we're not talking about closing down
 Harvard because he committed those atrocities,'' said Rep. Sonny Callahan,

 Joy Olson, director of the Latin American Working Group, a coalition of
 nongovernmental organizations that have lobbied to shut down the School of the
 Americas, said she's disappointed that the Pentagon decided against making
 large-scale changes.


 ``What I had hoped for is that the Army would come up with a radically different
 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 deeply
 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.