CIA director Porter J. Goss declared this week in an interview with USA Today that the CIA "does not do torture. We use lawful capabilities to collect vital information, and we do it in a variety of unique and innovative ways, all of which are legal and none of which are torture." The thousands that gathered last weekend for the yearly protest against the School of the Americas (SOA) would beg to differ.
Nearly 19,000 people massed at the gates of Ft. Benning, Georgia for the annual rally calling for an end to the SOA, renamed in 2001 the Western Hemispheric Institute for Security Cooperation. In 1996, SOA gained national attention when the Pentagon released training manuals used at the school that advocated torture, extortion and execution. Since its inception in 1946, hundreds of horrible crimes have been linked to graduates of the school, including the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero, the rape and murder of four U.S. nuns in 1980, and the massacre of hundreds in the village of El Mozote.
School officials say that those days are history, represented by the 2001 name change. However, the thousands who traveled to this year’s rally have another opinion. Among them, were the voices most personally and inexorably linked to the issue of torture:
Francisco was arrested by the Salvadoran National Guard in June, 1980. At the time he was working with the Catholic church, with two of the four U.S. nuns that were kidnapped later that year, raped and murdered. He was accused of aiding the guerrilla:
"Our wounds have never healed. They are still open. You don’t realize how we suffer when we see a photos of Abu Graib when we see photos of youths assassinated by Chilean or Honduran mercenaries, paid for by the United States in the Iraq war. We go to a doctor, but it doesn’t matter, because when we see this we re-live everything. The methods are still the same electric shocks, beatings, rapes day and night. They are the same methods those who order the torture are the same ones, because they are being trained at the same school."
Emi Breton, From the Torture Abolition and Survivor Support Coalition International:
"I remember the night I was dragged in to a van. I remember how they beat me. I remember how they raped me. I remember how they rped my brother too, how they electrocuted him and how he was forced to see himself being tortured
I don’t sleep much, and very often, when I go to sleep, I sleep with a hammer in my hand, because I’m scared that they are going to return. The torture didn’t stop that night, neither that year. I’m a tiny example of what is going on in my country, and my continent and all over around the world. When I saw the photos (of Abu Graib) and the US said, "well this is not torture." Well it is torture and the US has signed the UN Convention Against Torture, and it is a legal paper they keep saying that this is not torture and it is torture, and the people keep silent."
Jorge Montes was arrested in 1981 in El Salvador, on suspicion of being a guerrilla member:
"There were a lot of interrogations- a lot of manipulations torture and psychological torture. This happened to me and it reminds me of what is happening to prisoners in Guantanamo. That they are submitted to psychological torture and mock executions and many other things, and it is really shocking to me we need to abolish torture everywhere including in the USA."
Patricia Isasa was 16 when she was picked up by the Argentine military, suspected of being a "terrorist." She was "disappeared" for 3 months, and then held in a concentration camp for another two years. She says one of her torturers was a graduate of the School of the Americas:
"When I got the newspaper and saw the pictures of Abu Graib, they looked familiar. It’s incredible, but how is it possible that throughout all of Latin America it’s the same torture and it’s the same in Iraq? It’s because the School of America is still here and they haven’t changed the manual. They haven’t changed their policy."
"Imagine this They strip you and cover you with a hood and they bring you to a metal framed bed, and you don’t know where you are you don’t know what might happen to you but you do know that something terrible is going to happen. A group of people come in and they give you electric shocks, they beat you, they rape you, and the interrogator tells you that they have information that you are responsible for 9-11. You say "no", he insists They beat you, they rape you, they give you electric shocks you say "no", he says "yes", you say "no" until you will finally say "Yes I’m Osama Bin Ladin’s wife."
"But here’s the point. The person enduring the torture is not telling the truth. The person says what the other one wants to hear to get him to stop. It’s a lie that it’s a valid form of seeking information. We all know it those of us who have experienced it. We experienced in our flesh."
As Isasa puts it, "Torture is not something to debate. It’s not an opinion. Torture is a crime Which should be forbidden."
MIKE FOX is a writer and broadcaster living in New York City. He can be firstname.lastname@example.org