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Naked City

Doggett Opposes Funding SOA

By Joshua Fischer, August 16, 2002, News

Last week, U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, became the 112th co-sponsor of H.R. 1810, which would end congressional funding for the U.S. Army's School of the Americas. The bill, the seventh such attempt to cut off funding to the School, was introduced by Massachusetts Democrat Jim McGovern last year, and is expected to reach the House floor for a vote in September as an amendment to the Foreign Operations bill. "The horrible human rights records of many [SOA] graduates are totally unacceptable and conflict directly with those liberties we value as Americans," said Doggett. He joins Sheila Jackson-Lee, D-Houston, and Ron Paul, R-Victoria, as Texan co-sponsors of the bill.

The SOA, now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, has been the target of citizen and legislative ire for years, as increasing numbers of its graduates are found guilty of human rights violations across Latin America. Just two months ago, an SOA graduate was arrested for allegedly murdering a Colombian archbishop. Opponents annually meet at Ft. Benning, Ga., to participate in symbolic funeral processions honoring victims of SOA-related violence -- an act of civil disobedience. More than 70 people, including SOA Watch Founder and Maryknoll priest Roy Bourgeois (scheduled to visit Austin Oct. 14-16), have served time behind bars for trespassing onto the base during these demonstrations.

Ultimately, the School of the Americas will close down when Congress removes its funding -- an estimated $16 million to $20 million per year. But SOA officials don't seem threatened by H.R. 1810, which needs 80 or 90 more co-sponsors to pass.

"We don't have a say in what happens," said SOA Public Affairs officer Lee Rials. He denies that the school teaches soldiers -- from Colombia, Ecuador, and other Latin American countries -- to torture and assassinate civilians. "People here are doing exactly what Congress wanted them to do when they created the Institute ... Our military has never taught, in any place, things that are illegal, unethical or immoral."

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