House cuts some Army funding to train Latin American soldiers

Georgia lawmakers blame School of the Americas for military atrocities

July 31, 1999|By COX NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- For years, the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Ga., which is meant to teach combat skills to Latin American soldiers, has come under political attack.

Rep. Cynthia A. McKinney, a Georgia Democrat, has gone so far as to call it the "School of Assassins" because of human rights abuses she says were committed by some of its graduates.

But the school's federal funding has never been in jeopardy -- until now.

Late Thursday, the House cut funding that would have paid for training the soldiers from South America, Central America and the Caribbean.

The 230-197 vote marked the first funding setback in the school's 45-year history. The House action would eliminate only about 10 percent of the $20 million in federal funds earmarked for the school.

Each year, the school trains 800 to 1,000 soldiers at its Georgia campus near Columbus. Critics say it teaches terrorism and torture.

But Rep. Sanford D. Bishop Jr., another Georgia Democrat, told his colleagues the school has undergone 12 congressional investigations into allegations that it teaches torture and murder.

"All came to the same conclusion -- these charges are false," he said.

Army Col. Glenn Weidner, who runs the school, said there is "no doubt that terrible things" have happened in Latin America.

But, he said, fewer than 1 percent of the school's 60,000 graduates have been linked to atrocities.

"Our hope is to bring them here to train with us and that our values will be absorbed by them," Weidner said.

"I deny categorically that we train them to be terrorists. We are the U.S. Army."

Rep. Mac Collins, a Georgia Republican, said he hoped the funding would be restored when the foreign operations bill moves to a House-Senate conference committee for approval.

"We would probably have a lot more conflict in that region if it weren't for the school," Collins said.

"I don't think the school will be closed. It is too important to our national security."

Pub Date: 7/31/99

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