FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

SOA Watch Goes to Washington

Denis McDonough, Deputy National Security Adviser to President Obama, met with a delegation from the SOA Watch movement in Washington DC on November 13, 2012.

SOA Watch worked hard to meet with McDonough because he is a critical aide to the President and he has a deep Catholic justice background. A grad of College of St. Benedict and Georgetown, Denis comes from a big Catholic family which includes two priests.

Participating for SOA Watch were Congress Representative James McGovern, Father Roy Bourgeois, Adrianna Portillo-Bartow, Sister Marie Lucey, Father Charles Currie and Bill Quigley.

McDonough admitted he has in the past been a supporter of SOA-WHINSEC but wanted to hear more from the movement. Family members and even former teachers have talked to him about closing the school.

Representative McGovern told him the US underestimates how much of a bad symbol the school is in Latin America. On a recent visit to rural Colombia, grassroots people challenged the US commitment to human rights because of the continued operation of the school. The school is a symbol of all that is wrong with US policy in Latin America.

McDonough did not know and was concerned when McGovern told him the Department of Defense was stonewalling and not releasing the names of the students attending SOA-WHINSEC for the last several years.

Adrianna Portillo-Barrow told McDonough how troops in Guatemala, directed by SOA graduates, executed six members of her family including her 9 and 10 year old daughters. Hundreds of thousands disappeared at the direction of SOA grads. In Latin America, she said, the SOA-WHINSEC is a symbol of horror, pain and suffering and there is deep resentment that it remains open and unaccountable.

Father Roy, Sister Lucey, Father Currie and Bill Quigley highlighted for McDonough:

A powerful letter from the UAW calling for the school to be closed;

A multi-page list of religious, labor and human rights organizations supporting the movement;

That 6 countries have pulled their soldiers out of the school;

That 140 catholic bishops in Latin America and even more in the US call for its closure;

69 members of Congress have asked the President to close SOA-WHINSEC; and

Four of the generals responsible for the 2009 coup in Honduras were SOA grads.

“SOA-WHINSEC admits they have a few bad apples,” noted Quigley. “But this is not just a few bad apples, this is a bad orchard that needs to be dug up by its roots.”

Father Roy told how the movement to close the SOA-WHINSEC started 22 years ago after the massacre of 14-year old Celina Ramos, her mother Elba and six Jesuit priests in El Salvador. “Closing it would send such a wonderful message to our sisters and brothers in Latin America and to the hundreds of thousands seeking its closure in the US.”

President Obama was quite moved when he visited the cathedral in San Salvador where Bishop Romero was assassinated, said McDonough. The justice legacy of Bishop Romero has great personal significance for the President.

McDonough said he has looked hard at this issue but does not support closing the school. He cannot refute the fact that the school historically has been a symbol of human rights violations but he still supports keeping it open. He will read the materials submitted by the delegation and brief President Obama. He said he thought the militaries in Latin America are institutions like the church, flawed but important for those societies. The US has to find ways to work with and influence them to keep them under civilian control and WHINSEC helps that.

Near the end of the meeting, McDonough admitted that he has just recently met with the Chair of the Board of Advisors of SOA-WHINSEC and was impressed by reports of human rights trainings. At present he supports WHINSEC in concept, its reforms and its oversight.

McDonough promised to look into disclosing the names of the students at SOA-WHINSEC and possibly make changes to that policy. He thanked the group for the visit and respected the passion and intentions of the opponents but said he wanted to be candid about his lack of agreement.

As McDonough started to leave, Adrianna Portillo-Bartow made a powerful last plea. Her voice cracking and choking back tears, she asked him why so many hundreds of thousands have had to die and why so many more will have to die. Closing the school is an act of justice, she stated. It is time, she said, now nearly crying, for the US to stand with the people of Latin America, the oppressed, the poor and the persecuted. Moved and respectful, McDonough excused himself.

Our meeting with the White House Deputy National Security Advisor surfaces at least three lessons for our movement.

First, Denis McDonough has not yet joined our movement. This was our first face to face advocacy with him. He was respectful because this is a movement of hundreds of thousands. His refusal to announce the closing of WHINSEC is instructive to all who hoped the re-election of President Obama would automatically open previously closed doors for justice and human rights. Those doors are going to be opened only because WE are pushing them open. So we will.

Second, the fact that he did listen to the movement is important. He is a very busy and important person. He now knows we can educate him with facts about the school that he did not know previously. He is a smart man. I wonder what he thinks about the WHINSEC people not disclosing to him and the White House that they are not even disclosing the names of their students?

Third, it is up to us to continue to educate and agitate the powerful about the reality of US foreign policy. Adrianna’s pure voice of the victims of US policy teaches us again the power of the individual witness and the power of listening to the organized voices of the people most impacted. In a few days we will gather at Ft. Benning to commemorate the martyrs and celebrate the resistance. We will write, lobby, educate, organize and protest. If the Obama administration keeps the school open, we will be back and converge on DC in April.

The school will close. Accountability will come. Human rights will prevail.

Bill Quigley teaches law at Loyola University New Orleans, serves as Associate Legal Director for the Center for Constitutional Rights and is a longtime member of the SOAW legal collective. You can reach Bill at quigley77@gmail.com 
More articles by:

Bill Quigley teaches law at Loyola University New Orleans and can be reached at quigley77@gmail.com.

Weekend Edition
September 21, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Laquan McDonald is Being Tried for His Own Racist Murder
Brad Evans
What Does It Mean to Celebrate International Peace Day?
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Hurricane Florence and 9.7 Million Pigs
Nick Pemberton
With or Without Kavanaugh, The United States Is Anti-Choice
Andrew Levine
Israel’s Anti-Semitism Smear Campaign
Jim Kavanagh
“Taxpayer Money” Threatens Medicare-for-All (And Every Other Social Program)
Jonathan Cook
Palestine: The Testbed for Trump’s Plan to Tear up the Rules-Based International Order
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Chickenhawks Have Finally Come Back Home to Roost!
David Rosen
As the Capitalist World Turns: From Empire to Imperialism to Globalization?
Jonah Raskin
Green Capitalism Rears Its Head at Global Climate Action Summit
James Munson
On Climate, the Centrists are the Deplorables
Robert Hunziker
Is Paris 2015 Already Underwater?
Arshad Khan
Will Their Ever be Justice for Rohingya Muslims?
Jill Richardson
Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Assault
Dave Clennon
A Victory for Historical Accuracy and the Peace Movement: Not One Emmy for Ken Burns and “The Vietnam War”
W. T. Whitney
US Harasses Cuba Amid Mysterious Circumstances
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
Things That Make Sports Fans Uncomfortable
George Capaccio
Iran: “Snapping Back” Sanctions and the Threat of War
Kenneth Surin
Brexit is Coming, But Which Will It Be?
Louis Proyect
Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9”: Entertaining Film, Crappy Politics
Ramzy Baroud
Why Israel Demolishes: Khan Al-Ahmar as Representation of Greater Genocide
Ben Dangl
The Zapatistas’ Dignified Rage: Revolutionary Theories and Anticapitalist Dreams of Subcommandante Marcos
Ron Jacobs
Faith, Madness, or Death
Bill Glahn
Crime Comes Knocking
Terry Heaton
Pat Robertson’s Hurricane “Miracle”
Dave Lindorff
In Montgomery County PA, It’s Often a Jury of White People
Louis Yako
From Citizens to Customers: the Corporate Customer Service Culture in America 
William Boardman
The Shame of Dianne Feinstein, the Courage of Christine Blasey Ford 
Ernie Niemi
Logging and Climate Change: Oregon is Appalachia and Timber is Our Coal
Jessicah Pierre
Nike Says “Believe in Something,” But Can It Sacrifice Something, Too?
Paul Fitzgerald - Elizabeth Gould
Weaponized Dreams? The Curious Case of Robert Moss
Olivia Alperstein
An Environmental 9/11: the EPA’s Gutting of Methane Regulations
Ted Rall
Why Christine Ford vs. Brett Kavanaugh is a Train Wreck You Can’t Look Away From
Lauren Regan
The Day the Valves Turned: Defending the Pipeline Protesters
Ralph Nader
Questions, Questions Where are the Answers?
Binoy Kampmark
Deplatforming Germaine Greer
Raouf Halaby
It Should Not Be A He Said She Said Verdict
Robert Koehler
The Accusation That Wouldn’t Go Away
Jim Hightower
Amazon is Making Workers Tweet About How Great It is to Work There
Robby Sherwin
Rabbi, Rabbi, Where For Art Thou Rabbi?
Vern Loomis
Has Something Evil This Way Come?
Steve Baggarly
Disarm Trident Walk Ends in Georgia
Graham Peebles
Priorities of the Time: Peace
Michael Doliner
The Department of Demonization
David Yearsley
Bollocks to Brexit: the Plumber Sings
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail