School of the Americas
School of the Americas
The recent revelations of the use of torture by the US Army has brought back a lot of unhappy memories to meâ€”especially as those who were involved in my torture in 1974 bragged to me about their training at the School of the Americas (then in Panama, now at Ft. Benning, Georgia.)
On September 30, 1974, I was living in Recife, Brazil, where I had been a missionary of the United Methodist Church for nearly 11 years. I was kidnapped from my home by the security forces of the Brazilian army and spent the next 17 days in their torture chambers, before being expelled from the country as a person "prejudicial to national interests." (See Time, November 18, 1974 and Harperâ€™s October 1975). The torture techniques applied to me in 1974 were nearly identical to those that we have seen used by U.S. personnel in Iraq, down to the hoods, the cables, the crude attempts at humiliation.
I think that it is time for us the American people to see the issue of torture as a moral one in which our government has been directly and indirectly implicit for far too long. Here is a quote from my testimony before the US Congress (Congressman Don Fraserâ€™s Committee on International Organizations and Movements of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs) on December 11, 1974. I think it is quite pertinent at this moment in our history.
"Torture brutalizes and dehumanizes not only those who are tortured but those who torture, those who are intimidated by the torture of others, and those who try to ignore the fact that torture exists.
"It dehumanizes those who are tortured by treating them as less than human and, in many cases, by forcing them into less-than-human feelings and often into less-than-human acts. If one is forced to betray friends, companions and family through torture, as many are, the psychological and spiritual damage may be irreparable, quite apart from the permanent physical damage that often results.
"It dehumanizes those who torture. In addition to the psychopathology induced and encouraged in those who practice torture, persons and governments who resort to torture, for whatever motives, betray their social contract with their fellow humans and effectively secede from the human community.
"It dehumanizes those who are intimidated. Churchmen who cease to proclaim the gospel in its fullness out of fear; students who cease to make the search for truth their vocation out of fear; journalists who give the public less than the truth for fear of reprisal; workers who, through fear of repression, are not allowed to organize to defend their interests; politicians who can only rubber-stamp authoritarian proposals from dictatorial regimes, for fear of the consequences of more independent, conscience-led actionsâ€”all these and in fact the whole community of man share in the dehumanization caused by torture.
"Torture dehumanizes those who try to ignore it, saying it is an "internal affair" or a passing phase. Such indifference dries up the wellsprings of human sympathy and compassion and breaks the social contract of the world community to be concerned for the whole family of man. Civilizatin and freedom are not built, and cannot be maintained, by those who assume the posture of indifference."
Unfortunately, today, 30 years later, we are still in the same situation. But now, instead of our government supporting a regime in Brazil that tortured, (and in Chile, El Salvador, Guatemala, Colombia, etc., etc., etc.) we have been found to be directly engaged in this heinous practice, under the pretext of defending and expanding democracy. It is time the people of the United States said "Enough!" The ends do not justify the means, especially if the means are in total violation of the professed ends.
At the very least, we should energetically join the movement to close the School of the Americas as a first step in cleaning up our act. The School is known throughout the Americas as the "School for Assassins" and every country's human rights record has deteriorated notably as its graduates from the School return home. Colombia today has the largest number of graduates and is clearly the most horrendous human rights disaster in the hemisphere.
Rev. Fred Morris is Executive Director for the Florida Council of Churches and Director for Latin American and Caribbean RelationsThe National Council of Churches of Christ of the USA