This morning I received an email from Father Roy Bourgeois, inviting folks to join him on his upcoming delegation to El Salvador in March. His letter sparked some memories which prompted this posting. I’ll share his invitation to El Salvador at the end of this reflection.
The image on the left is the future home of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), formerly known as the School of the Americas (SOA), though you wouldn’t know that if you read through the organization’s “history” on its web site.
A little bit about my history first, though.
In 1989, two years after leaving the United States Air Force, I found myself lovingly embraced by a new community of people at First Presbyterian Church in Palo Alto. Among the many peace and social justice issues the church was involved with, the congregation had deep connections with Salvadoran refugees during the civil war in El Salvador and had even sent delegations to El Salvador and Honduras during the war to get a feet on the ground view of what was really going on there.
At a potluck gathering one evening I was chatting with a few church folks when someone brought up torture and assassination (not your typical church pot-luck conversation, unless you happen to be a sanctuary church like First Pres.) and how terrible it was that the United States military was training Salvadoran soldiers on how to commit these atrocious acts. “That can’t possibly be true!” I interjected.
During my eight years in the Air Force (1979 – 1987) the message we got about torture and assassination was unambiguous. We were not only absolutely prohibited from participating in such acts but we were required to report any attempt to encourage such actions. Presidents Ford and Carter had issued executive orders including these very clear words: “No person employed by or acting on behalf of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, assassination.” And, during the Reagan years while I served as an intelligence analyst and trainer, we were reminded every year that the executive orders were still in effect.
Engaging in assassination or torture were clearly, or so I was taught, violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) and anyone who participated in such acts, or who had knowledge of such acts and didn’t report them, would be prosecuted. Period. End of story. Right? Well….. it turns out……