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School of the Americas ...

... Torture U

UE Presence at Massive Protest
Calling for Closure Of the
School of the Americas




Rank-and-File Initiative Secures Bus, Builds Coalition


A Name on a Cross, The Story of a Victim



School of the America's - The Ultimate Union Buster (UE Policy)


Visit the School of the Americas Watch website  at


The weather was cold and rainy, the 15-hour, night-time bus trip grueling. But the elements and inconvenience failed to dampen the spirits of the union members and students from Pittsburgh who had traveled to Fort Benning, Ga. to demand closure of the United States Army School of Americas on Nov. 18-19.

More than 10,000 from all over the Americas gathered at the gates of Ft. Benning to protest the U.S. Army’s counterinsurgency training program. More than 3,600 risked arrest by crossing onto the base in a massive act of civil disobedience, and more than 2,100 protestors — including UE members — were arrested and processed.


In its 50-year history, the U.S. Army School of the Americas (SOA) has trained some 60,000 Latin American troops in commando tactics, military intelligence, psychological operations and sniper fire. The targets of these military tactics have been labor organizers and religious leaders, students and teachers, peasants and workers. SOA graduates have been linked to assassination, torture, rape and intimidation — and the massacres of entire villages of women, men and children.

Traveling together from Pittsburgh were UE Genl. Sec.-Treas. Bob Clark, District Six Pres. John Lambiase, Local 683 Pres. Charles Tangle (who had traveled from Erie to meet the bus in Pittsburgh), Local 623 Pres. Bryan Rice, Local 690 Vice Pres. John Thompson, Local 690 Rec. Sec. John Blinn, Field Org. Mary McGinn, Robin Pearson of the UE National office staff and Ian Thompson, the teenaged son of the Local 690 officer.

They were joined on the bus by students from the University of Pittsburgh, Carnegie-Mellon University, Gannon University and Mercyhurst College, members of the United Steelworkers and the Thomas Merton Center, a Pittsburgh religious-based social justice organization (see Rank-and-File Initiative Secures Bus, Builds Coalition).


Once at the rally site UE’s Clark was sought out by national news media for an explanation of labor’s stake in the protest. He pointed out that the SOA is "the ultimate unionbuster," providing local elites and multinational corporations with a well-trained "hit squad" to take out workers who dare to organize runaway plants.

"We got there in time to go directly to the demonstration, in the cold and rain of that Saturday," says John Lambiase. The size and diversity of the crowd were matched by the rapid alternation of speakers and music. "They didn’t have to call on the same band twice," he says.

The vigil featured speakers from Colombia and the Mexican state of Chiapas, as well as several other Latin American nations. Both Colombia and Chiapas have been targeted for massive U.S. military aid; Colombia has more SOA graduates (10,000) than any other nation and experiences widespread paramilitary activity (see: Colombia - Clinton's Deadly Gamble). Paramilitary death squads are a key element of civilian-targeted warfare as taught at the SOA.


At the heart of the protest is a solemn funeral process to the base, during which the many thousands killed by SOA graduates are recalled. The protestors carry crosses and other religious symbols on which are inscribed the names of SOA victims.

"Thousands of people line up, thousands more marching onto Ft. Benning," Lambiase says. "The actual crossing itself is very striking, it has a tone that is just astonishing. The names and ages of individuals killed, are read off. It takes hours. The effect is absolutely overwhelming.

"Many of those names are those of children," Lambiase points out. "Way, way too many are children."


The procession was led by a group dressed in black shrouds and white death masks who carried coffins to commemorate the assassination of six Jesuit priests and their two co-workers in El Salvador in 1989 by SOA graduates. When met by military police a half mile inside the gate, this lead group fell to the ground, reenacting a massacre. They were among the first to be carried away by MPs.

As the procession moved onto the base those willing to risk arrest literally crossed the line. Many of the students who came on the Pittsburgh bus decided to get arrested as did UE’s John Lambiase, Mary McGinn, John Blinn, John Thompson and Ian Thompson. They spent some seven hours being shuffled from tents to buses and eventually to the hangar where they were processed. Each received a letter banning and barring them from entering the base for five years; violation will result in six months in a federal penitentiary and a hefty fine.


"We had no regrets," says John Thompson.

His son, a high school senior, agreed. It was the younger Thompson’s first-ever arrest, although he took part in the demonstration last year and crossed the line. "Getting arrested was basically what I expected. I knew it was a possibility." After being prodded with a metal detector, photographed and finger-printed, Ian was also served with the "bar and ban" paper.

"I thought it was a good thing to do," he says. "It’s an important cause. People need to know that our government is training people to wage these dirty wars against their own people with our tax dollars. So many people have died as a result of graduates of the School of the Americas. They have to understand that it’s unacceptable, we’re not going to go away until it’s closed."

Ian Thompson says he will "definitely" be back next year, but won’t be crossing the line.

Meanwhile, the others in the Pittsburgh delegation endured the cold and incessant rain, but just barely. Bryan Rice’s water-logged sneakers fell apart. Emergency visits to local stores procured tennis shoes for him and extra clothing for others. The number of arrests slowed the processing which delayed departure, creating some unplanned problems.

"Overall, people were glad they went," says John Thompson. Robin Pearson didn’t care for the cold and damp, but was glad to take part in the protests. As John Lambiase points out, too many children — too many innocent victims — have died.

UE News - 12/00

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