March 9, 2009
President Barack Obama
The White House
On January 26, 2009 a U.S. federal judge in Georgia found the SOA 6 guilty of illegal entry onto the U.S. Army base at Fort Benning during a protest against the School of the Americas (SOA). The six were part of the thousands who came together on November 22-23, 2008, to demand the closure of the School of the Americas. The six carried out an act of peaceful civil disobedience, walking onto the base. The judge sentenced them to two-month prison terms. These activists are Fr. Luis Barrios, Kristin Holm, Sister Diane Pinchot, Al Simmons, and Theresa Cusimano. A sixth co-defendant, Louis Wolf, was sentenced to six months of house arrest. In Asuncion we have declared our support for the cause. We are in solidarity with the six.
As with Guantanamo, the SOA is known for torture and crimes against humanity. In the case of Guantanamo the crimes occurred recently inside of one complex. With the School of the Americas, the "training" and the resulting crimes have gone on for more than 60 years.
Starting on November 26, 1974, in Asuncion, Paraguay, I was brutally tortured by an aggregate of military personnel from Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Uruguay, and of course, military and police from Paraguay. I had defended a doctoral thesis at the University of La Plata in Argentina, entitled "Paraguay: Education and Dependence." I took my inspiration from the great Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire, who at that time was considered a subversive.
I would like to emphasize that I took no course in how to be tortured. However, all my torturers had taken courses at the School of the Americas when it was located in the Panama Canal Zone. During one month in the torture room I saw more than 1,200 persons tortured for the mere act of holding different opinions from that of the government of General Alfredo Stroessner. He was the person who the former Vice President of the USA, Richard Nixon, called the "Champion of Anti-Communism in Latin America." Thus I believe that for nearly all the human rights abuses committed in Paraguay during the period from 1954 to 1989, the government of the United States has legal co-responsibility at the national and international levels. Crimes against humanity have no statute of limitations.
On November 22, 1992, on my return to Paraguay, with the assistance of a judge, I discovered the archives of Stroessner's Secret Police. The press soon dubbed it the "Archives of Terror." I uncovered the founding documents of Operation Condor. This was a criminal pact between the military governments of the 1970s, including Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay. The price of the pact was paid with more than 100,000 victims in the Southern Cone region. More that half of these victims were grassroots leaders, students, professors, lawyers, doctors, members of religious congregations, journalists, human rights defenders, artists and intellectuals. In other words, the military tried to eliminate the thinking class of Latin America.
The intellectual author and instigator of these crimes was the Secretary of State from the US at that time, Henry Kissinger. In 2002, I initiated a criminal complaint against him in Santiago, Chile, where Operation Condor was conceived during the Pinochet regime.
Soon after the discovery of the "Archives of Terror," Maryknoll Father Roy Bourgeois visited us. From my personal experience of torture in 1974-1975 at the hands of graduates of the School of the Americas, I enthusiastically joined his campaign to close the "School of Assassins" now located at Ft. Benning. To me, keeping this US military facility open makes no sense at all because in Latin America the rule of law is now in effect. Why spend US tax money to train Latin American torturers?
Your election as President has offered a great hope to the world. In Latin America we are especially hopeful that the systemic violation of human rights might come to an end.
As winner of the Alternative Nobel Peace Prize and as a Member of the Executive Committee of the American Association of Jurists, I ask of you, please, Mr. President:
1. Utilize your office to end the political persecution of the brave US citizens who are struggling for the closure of the School of the Americas, a training institute that supports authoritarian governments. Let us be in solidarity with the six North Americans who, swimming against the current, are staking their all for universal justice.
2. Close the School of the Americas, and convert it into a People's University for Human Rights and Ecology. We are very concerned, as you are, about growing environmental contamination and global warming.
I send you greetings with the highest regard and respect.
Dr. Martin Almada
has a Master of Business Administration and works for the Medical Care
Service for Refugees since 2002. After serving as a fundraiser, she
became responsible coordinator of the "Justice heals" campaign in 2004.
Furthermore, she has a mandate in the city council of Bochum.
(Tuesday and Thursday, 10.00–18.00)
UN Special Rapporteur on Torture