I can resist anything but temptation. The first letter to the editor in the hard copy of The Aug. 19 paper left me all but salivating and rubbing my palms together in glee.
My story begins when I read a report reprinted from the New York Times about an elderly nun arrested for “trespassing” at a nuclear weapons facility. (I wonder if the APD, AST, FBI, TSA, and CIA should profile elderly white women on suspicion of being nuns. But I digress.) The Times writer said Sr. Megan Rice has been arrested at the School of the Americas, which the writer said has since shut down. I begged to differ and pointed out that the feds replaced the SOA with something called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation to continue the work of the SOA--sorta like renaming the Exxon Valdez Sea River Mediterranean or renaming Blackwater Xe--and added the SOA graduates have been linked to, among many other crimes, those responsible for the rapes and murders of four US churchwomen. The main point of my letter was simply to say reports of the demise of the SOA have been somewhat exaggerated.
Enter Mr. Lee Rials. For some reason the spin doctor for SOA/WHINSEC felt so threatened by a letter from a backwoods rube in Alaska that he just had to write about what he considered my “misleading” letter. I never dreamed a federal bureaucrat at the other end of the country would consider me such a threat. Doesn’t he have anything better to do than to scan Alaska newspapers? I mean, Alaska has three electoral votes and they’re such a cinch to go to Mitt Romney, I doubt Mitt will even set foot in the state between now and November. So what’s the problem?
What Mr. Rials wrote is even weirder than why he wrote. Now, I don’t like telling other guys how to do their jobs, but I would think if I wanted to promote my agency, I would tell folks about the good things it does, about why it is needed and about what how wisely it is spending taxpayers’ money. Not so Mr. Rials. He prefers the Richard “I am not a crook” Nixon approach: “Not one example of anyone using what he/she learned at the School of the Americas or the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation to commit any crime has ever been found.” In effect, hey, you guys can’t prove we’re responsible for the terrorism perpetrated by the guys we train. Kinda reminds me of those 1940s detective movies you see on Ted Turner’s classic movie channel, in which you can always identify he bad guys as the ones with the New York accents who tell Humphrey Bogart or Dick Powell, “You can’t prove I rubbed dat guy out, coppa.”
To be fair, I give Mr. Rials credit for telling the truth here. I’m quite confident no right-wing terrorist has ever called a news conference to announce the SOA taught him everything he knows about being a bad guy. Nor did Roberto D’Auboisson, the head of the El Salvador death squads, call a press conference, stand in front of a big banner reading “Mission Accomplished” and brag about the four US church women his outfit had raped and murdered. There are two big differences between US-funded and al Qaida-organized terrorist groups. The terrorists we finance tend to hide and bury their victims; the al Qaida terrorists don’t seek federal funds to finance their crimes.
Then, again, how likely are you to get murder trials for the guys who run the countries whose militaries commit the crimes? Do we presume Hitler and Stalin were innocent? After all, neither Germany nor the USSR ever brought either to trial. And, then again, how can you convict government officials of crimes after they’ve legalized them? I suspect a prosecuting attorney would not find it very effective to sum up his case by saying, “Mr. Stalin, I’m sure you will agree with me the evidence proves Mr. Stalin is guilty.”
Even a backwoods Alaska rube like me can figure out that the innocent until proven guilty principle is supposed to refer to human beings on trial for crimes; it’s not supposed to refer to government agencies spending taxpayers’ money. How many of you would dig into your pockets to support the Environmental Protection Agency because its spin doctor said no one has ever proved anyone used his/her EPA training to murder and torture tens of thousands of people?
Am I the only one to notice Mr. Rials' letter never mentions whether WHINSEC does anything good? Or are we supposed to take the government's word for that?
Mr. Rials compares the following to “‘natural moose product’ they used to sell tourists up in North Pole”:
• The Washington Post report that SOA curriculum released through a Freedom of Information request included techniques in torturing from 1982 to 1991
• The United Nations Truth Commission Report on El Salvador linked SOA graduates to the murders of four US church women and the assassination of Archbishop Romero in 1980 and the murders of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter in 1989
• And the passage in “Disturbing the Peace: The Story of Fr. Roy Bourgeois and the Movement to Close the School of the Americas," in which the SOA set up a kind of hall of fame honoring military leaders trained at the SOA only to quietly remove it after nearly all those so honored were charged with murders, torture, and other human rights abuses
Nothing like hearing allegations of lying from the outfit that tells us “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.”
I don’t know what to make of Mr. Rials’ quibbling about my reference to SOA/WHINSEC graduates, some of whom he claims take only three-week courses. Maybe he tries to play down the effect the courses have on those who take them. If the students learn so little from their training, then why train them in the first place? I for one do not find it a very convincing argument to say, “Hey, finance us because we’re really not as harmful as people say we are.”
Just thinking of Mr. Rials’ last sentence made me laugh as I write this: “I welcome anyone to come see who we are and what we do.” I got an e-mail from a woman named Theresa after six months in prison for taking his advice:
“My body gave out under the stress of being moved to four different facilities in two weeks’ time. My kidneys shut down without water or nutrition. My legs could no longer stand…
They shot me in the ass like a horse, to silence me. My eyes lost their ability to focus. They made me beg for my food and crawl, naked on concrete because I was unable to walk.”
Apparently Mr. Rials’ real invitation is to come see only what the government wants you to see.
Mr. Rials also included a link to his website. That set me to thinking. I wonder if al Qaida also has its own website. So I tried to apply my rudimentary skills and Googled “al Qaida website.” I didn’t exactly find any. I did find links to a couple of stories about the US military shutting down al Qaida websites, although I didn’t find such websites themselves. But I did uncover one site which claimed it was the “official” website of a “terrorist” named Abu Musaab Al-Suri. So I clicked on to find a photograph of what looked like a large apartment building and an ad proclaiming the advantages of selling your own property through the For Sale by Owner Real Estate Association with an invitation to find out more by clicking on www.fsboa.com.
There you have it. Just as WHINSEC trains people with benign course descriptions such as “Peace Operations” and “Democratic Containment,” so you can rely on al Qaida to help you sell your own property and avoid real estate agent fees.