A Prayer For Peace –by Steve Clemens. November 2005
On November 20th I join more than 10,000 fellow citizens at the entrance of Fort Benning in Columbus, GA, adding my voice to the growing chorus calling for the closure of “The Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC)” aka “School of the Americas (SOA)”. This peaceful/prayerful witness has been taking place in November for the past 15 years to coincide with the anniversary of the martyrdom of six Jesuit priests and their housekeeper and her daughter in San Salvador in 1989. The U.N. Truth Commission set up after El Salvador’s long, bloody civil war concluded that responsibility for the assassinations of these people of faith (as well as countless others) was directed and carried out by military personnel who had been trained at the SOA before committing these murders of unarmed advocates for justice in El Salvador.
I had the opportunity to travel to El Salvador this past April with the Center For Global Education at Augsburg College to be present for the national recognition of the 25th anniversary of the martyrdom/assassination of the Archbishop of El Salvador, Oscar Romero. I had read several books that have been written about his life, collections of his sermons and pastoral letters, and had viewed the motion picture released about his life and death. The love of the common people for his life and witness in El Salvador gives evidence that he has become a patron saint for the church in that small Central American nation. His murder has also been determined to have been ordered by a graduate of the SOA.
Our group also made a pilgrimage to two other sites during our week in El Salvador besides the places where Romero and the Jesuits were killed. We traveled to the chapel in the countryside built on the site where the bodies of three Maryknoll nuns and a lay religious worker were hastily buried after their rape and murders in December 1989. Again, the murders and human rights abuses to Jean Donovan, Maura Clark, Ita Ford, and Dorothy Kazel were linked to graduates of this school. We prayed for forgiveness for our complicity as citizens of the nation that trained and paid for their killers. We also were blessed to spend time with the survivors of the massacre of Copapayo, a small village outside of Suchitoto. After visiting the site of the original village and the ravine/lake shoreline where more than 150 were gunned down by the Salvadoran military, we were invited to visit their new village up-lake from there to share a meal with some of the survivors. Again, these murders of the peasants was directed by, and carried out by, SOA graduates.
As the annual litany of names of the thousands killed in Central and South America by SOA graduates is sung in the prayerful, solemn memorial remembrance, it is my intent to carry a small cross painted with the name of Monsignor Oscar Romero on to the military base and to walk toward the location of this school of torture and assassination. It is my intent to “give legs” to my prayers for peace and an end to the violent oppression that this school symbolizes. It is likely that I will be arrested by military police before I am able to reach the SOA buildings but I will walk as far as I am able, each step a prayer for both the victims and the perpetrators, for our governmental leaders and all of us taxpayers who are complicit in the on-going crimes committed by the product of this institution.
The SOA/WHINSEC is a symbol of our national foreign policy which has led to the tortures of Iraqis at Abu Ghraib and many other prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo, and many secret locations run by the CIA around the world under the misguided aim to quell “terrorism” by violence and intimidation in order that the “beneficiaries” of the American Empire can continue a standard of living at the expense of the world’s poor. The SOA continues to train military officers of Colombia who have been implicated in human rights abuses. I go to Fort Benning and the SOA confessing my own failure to more fully follow the life and teaching of Jesus who calls us to a lifestyle of justice and compassion. My prayers and act of civil resistance to these powers of death are a small attempt to give a voice to the voiceless, to speak and act in solidarity to the victims of our national policies which are embodied in this institution which has produced so much evil over the years. I pray that this saying “NO” to the powers of death is swallowed up in the “YES” embodied in the life and teaching of Jesus and I will continue to work for a world of justice, compassion, and equal opportunity. I ask all of you to join me as you are able to work and pray to close this school and change our policy. (You may learn more about this “school” at www.soaw.org , including the call for cessation of all classes at the school by Amnesty Int’l. USA and an investigation of human rights violations connected to the school).