Wesley Clark and the School of the Assassins
- Ben Waxman
Rape. Torture. Murder. Most politicians don't want to be associated with such things. In particular, Democratic candidates like being linked with progressive ideas, like universal health care or improving public education. Not Wesley Clark. The retired General is a fierce advocate for the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHISC), formally known as the School of the Americas. The institute has trained thousands of soldiers, many of whom have been linked with gross human rights violations across Latin America. Clark's support for the school will most likely get him into trouble with several key Democratic constituencies.
Located in Fort Benning, Georgia, WHISC is funded by U.S. tax dollars. With a curriculum that teaches assassination, political intimidation and mass murder, it's no wonder that concerned citizens have cried foul. Gen. Clark has consistently backed the school, despite the concerns raised by human rights groups. They aren't the only ones complaining. The Catholic Church has taken issue with the training facility, as graduates from the school seem to make a habit of killing clergy. For example, Col. Byron Disrael Lima Estrada bludgeoned Guatemalan Bishop Juan Gerardi to death after Gerardi released a report critical of the military. A student in the 1980s, Estrada honed his killing techniques with U.S. tax dollars. Instead of calling for the closure of the school, as many government officials have, Gen. Clark praised the training program. In testimony before the Armed Services Committee, which was holding hearings on the school, Clark claimed, "There is nothing going on in these institutions that you in the United States Congress wouldn't be extraordinarily proud of." The 60 million Catholics that live in the United States might disagree.
Women's rights proponents, a key constituency of the Democratic Party, could also take issue with that statement. According to declassified documents, WHISC training manuals advocate the use of rape as a tool for psychological warfare. Graduates of the school have been implicated in thousands of rapes across Latin America. Victims include peasants, political activists and four Catholic nuns from the United States. Despite the overwhelming evidence, Clark continues to defend the school. He claims the school's purpose was to "teach human rights." Clark is supposed to be an expert in international affairs-doesn't he understand that rape is a violation of human rights?
While Clark doesn't favor the outright repeal of the USA Patriot Act, he has admitted that it may "unduly threaten our civil liberties."
Unions have traditionally played a critical role in the success of the Democratic Party. Any candidate that wants to win the nomination will need the support of organized labor. The United Electrical Workers gave the "Ultimate Union Buster" award to the training facility, citing the graduates' long history of harassing labor organizers. In fact, the manual produced by the school advocates for "targeting those who do union organizing or recruiting, pass out propaganda in favor of the interests of workers, or make accusations that the government has failed... to meet the basic needs of people." In Colombia, which has many graduates of the school, paramilitaries have killed over 200 union organizers in the past year alone. Clark will have a hard time convincing the AFL-CIO that he supports labor if he keeps running around with the gang of union busters that operate this training facility.
While Clark doesn't favor the outright repeal of the USA Patriot Act, he has admitted that it may "unduly threaten our civil liberties." Clearly, Clark is trying to reach out to the millions of people who are concerned about the loss of political freedom under the Bush administration. However, Clark has remained vague about the abuses of civil liberties that have occurred at the hands of WHISC graduates. He openly supports an institution that endorses interrogation, torture and other abuses of civil liberties. Although he might claim otherwise, Clark's support of the SOA equals a support for these outrageous policies. That's certainly not going to help him with civil libertarians.
Clark has attracted many people to his campaign who are looking for a change from the destructive foreign policy of the Bush Administration. Perhaps his experience as a general makes him less concerned about the human rights abuses occurring at the SOA. After all, you've got to do what it takes to win a war-even if it's a war on human rights and democracy.
Ben Waxman is a student studying politics at Juniata College.