October 7, 2005

Activist Criticizes Military Training School

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Aaron Shuman – activist, journalist, prisoner of conscience – spoke on the boundaries between political activism and journalism, as well as how American policy regarding events in this hemisphere set precedents for global U.S. actions last night at Ithaca College.

Shuman’s incarceration at the Atwater Federal Prison from March to July 2004 inspired his lecture. “Some people go to college to read. Some people go to prison to read. The one nice thing about being in prison was I got to read,” Shuman said.

Shuman was incarcerated for his role in protesting the U.S. Army School of the Americas (SOA), re-named the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHISC) after the House of Representatives voted to close the school in 2000. A major public relations campaign to improve the school’s image and disguise its past followed announcement of the name change, Shuman said.

This military training school was initially founded in the “spirit of cooperation” and to “lend [U.S.] support” to foreign countries, said Dana Brown, coordinator of CUSLAR, the Committee on U.S.-Latin American Relations. The group has sponsored protest trips to WHISC, which opened as the SOA in 1946 in Panama and is now located in Fort Benning, Ga. The controversy surrounding WHISC lies in the fact that it doesn’t teach just normal army procedures, but torture techniques, Brown said. Other courses include counterinsurgency, psychological warfare, military intelligence and interrogation tactics. Graduates of the school have been behind and connected with Latin American massacres.

“U.S. taxpayer dollars fund this, which trains other people to suppress their own people,” Brown said. “It’s hideous; we’re not just teaching them standard operations but horrible, horrible techniques,” she added.

Shuman actively works with SOA Watch, the main protester group against WHISC. SOA Watch holds an annual vigil and protest in remembrance of the six Jesuit priests, their co-worker and his daughter who were killed by SOA graduates on Nov. 16, 1989.

“I went to the protest two years ago with CUSLAR and am interested in going again,” said Sara Beau, a senior at I.C.

“Whatever your political issue is, you can get something out of coming down this November,” Shuman said.

Shuman related protests against WHISC to the actions of the St. Patrick’s Four. SOA had a wall of fame, also known as the wall of shame, and 11 of the people on the list are dictators, Shuman said. The founder of SOA Watch, Roy Bougeois, threw his blood on the wall, a symbolic gesture used also by the St. Patrick’s Four, he added.

“The history of the SOA Watch is a rich resource for people talking about war crimes in Iraq,” Shuman said. Shuman said the negative repercussions of the Iraq war and WHISC show that the U.S. needs “to establish responsibility of U.S. commanders.”

“I’ll definitely be e-mailing my dad about it but of course his vision’s going to be skewed,” said Julia Finn, also a senior at I.C. Her father is in the Civil Affairs Section of the National Guard.

Buzzsaw Haircut, I.C.’s independent magazine, sponsored the talk.

Archived article by Jessica DiNapoli
Sun Staff Writer