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Mike hopes to see the world turned upside down through local communities banding together for social change, especially churches which have recognized the radical calling to be good news to the poor, to set free the prisoners and oppressed, and to become the social embodiment of the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. He lives with the blessed memory of his wife, in Durham, NC, and has three adult children living in three different states. He also shares his life with the Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, the faculty and students of Shaw University Divinity School in Raleigh, NC, and the faithful fans of Duke and Baylor Basketball in his neighborhood.

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Monday, November 24, 2008

Close the SOA/WHINSEC


On Saturday evening, Lydia (my 16-yr-old daughter) and I made the long trip to Georgia to participate in a solemn prayer vigil and protest. We met my other daughter, Naomi, who came from Texas, and a friend named Frances from Louisiana.


We gathered outside the gates of Ft. Benning with thousands of other people. You can view a news report from a local station in Columbus, GA.


Our purpose was to convince the Pentagon, Congress, and the President that the School of the Americas/Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation must be closed. This training school, known in Latin America as the "School of Assassins," has funded "anti-insurgency" courses for officers and soldiers of the militaries of Latin American countries for over sixty years.

Banished from Panama as "the biggest base for destabilization in Latin America," the school was relocated to Ft. Benning, in Columbus, GA. There it continued its work on behalf of multinational corporations and U. S. interests, training the Latin American militaries to repress movements for greater democratization and economic restructuring. After shocking news of murder and repression in Central American countries in the 1980s, especially El Salvador and Guatemala, many U. S. citizens awakened to the role of the School of the Americas in exporting violence and torture to neighboring countries. Heinous crimes against church leaders, educators, labor organizers, and entire villages of peasants were being ordered, led, and committed by graduates trained at the SOA. In El Salvador, among the thousands of victims were Archbishop Oscar Romero, murdered while conducting mass; four Maryknoll Mission church women; and a household of priests, their housekeeper, and her daughter, including Father Ignacio Ellacuria, a well-known theologian.


Church people and other protests became increasingly organized to close this training school.


One key point in the campaign was the discovery of a training manual which included instructions for employing torture as a way to prevent insurgency. As the movement brought pressure on Congress to close the SOA, eventually the possibility of its being shut down became realistic. In a bureaucratic and legislative sleight of hand, the Pentagon and Congress finally cut off funding for the SOA, closing it down in the final days of the Clinton presidency. However, it was immediately replaced by WHINSEC (a much harder abbreviation to parody), using the same buildings, the same faculty, the same courses, and empowered for the same purposes. Even thought the military "closed the SOA," the effort to end its exporting of torture and violence had to continue.

After the Abu Ghraib photos became public and discussion of the use of torture by U. S. government or military officials came into public debate, the momentum again began to build to close the SOA. At the vigil and protest that year, I displayed a sign asking, "Do you believe us now?" Yes, it is possible that the U. S. government may promote torture as a tool of policy.

In 2006, the effort to end funding for SOA/WHINSEC fell short by a mere six votes. Presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich announced his plans to shut down the SOA, and thirty-five of the Congressional Representatives who voted to continue funding for the SOA in 2006 were defeated in the recent election. The President-Elect has announced plans to close the Guantanamo detention facility, but he has not taken any public stand about closing the SOA.

I encourage you to sign the petition to the next President to close this school by executive order. I also urge you to write to your Congressional Representative, asking her or him to vote against any further funding for the SOA/WHINSEC.

This year the sign I held during the vigil said, "LET 2008 BE OUR LAST TIME." If you look at the news report video I mentioned above, about two-thirds of the way through you can see my hand lift this sign up in the middle of the screen.


I hope you will help make that happen.

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