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November 16, 1999


Violent Thoughts on Veterans Day

Stories of gun violence filled the newspapers last week. As Alabama saluted veterans of its nation's wars, it also remembered a young woman who shot and killed another last Tuesday after an episode of road rage. “Oh my God, I shot her! She's dying!'' was all that Shirley Henson could say on her cell phone after she had called the police. In a thoughtless moment she had taken the life of a mother of three, and ruined many other lives including her own. Ironically, the lonely spot off Interstate 65 in Shelby County where the incident occurred is not far from a site where three people were shot to death in August.

Veterans fought to preserve our constitutional rights. But those rights do not encompass the privilege to carry handguns, weapons that lie within easy reach, waiting for our moment of weakness. It is within our power as a society to ban such weapons and so prevent similar tragedies, but we seem to be unwilling to do it. Repeatedly we hear the argument that if handguns are made illegal, then we will be unable to protect ourselves from criminals. And repeatedly we discover that it is ourselves, not criminals, who must be deterred.

The countless churches that preached the evils of gambling so effectively last month will remain largely quiet on the issue of handgun control. Why is the lure of lethal violence less of a moral problem than the lure of a lottery?

-- Dan Silver

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Letters to the Editor

Dear Editor,

I've meant to send this note before, and never got around to it. I want to thank you for the series of articles on Dr. [Doug] Magann's firing, and for leaving them up on your site. I have my students read them as a deeply detailed case study of local school district politics, albeit more representative of one side than perhaps the other. I know of no other local school politics materials on the Web as richly detailed as these.

William D. McInerney
Educational Administration
Department of Educational Studies
School of Education
Purdue University
West Lafayette, IN

Dear Editor,

I am writing in response to your article by Gary Speltz: "Interview with Father Bourgeois: The School of the Americas and U.S. Tax Supported Terror in Latin America," Harbinger, October 19-November, 1999. I believe, in this instance, you allowed the Harbinger to be used as a propaganda tool for Father Bourgeois' cause. Even the title of the article itself smacks of one-sided propaganda. The title leads the reader to believe that it is a fact that there is U.S. supported terror in Latin America and automatically and unfairly links the School of the Americas with the supposed U.S. supported terror. Since the School of the Americas has no propaganda department, and as with all U.S. military organizations, it has no way to defend itself against its detractors, I would like to speak on the School's behalf and present another side of the story. Some of your readers may not be familiar with the School of Americas, except for Fr. Bourgeois' slanted, one-sided view of it.

Fr. Bourgeois' allegations include that the school teaches torture, assassination and abuse of human rights. This is pure hogwash. This flawed reasoning is based on guilt by association, claiming that if students behave badly after graduating, these actions must have been inspired by the school. Should we condemn Harvard because the Unabomber was taught there? Graduates of the School of the Americas may have tortured and may have murdered, but they were not taught that at the School. The facts are that less than one percent of the School's 60,000 graduates have ever been linked to human rights violations. What this less than one percent did cannot be condoned, but what they did was not as a result of their attendance at the School of the Americas. The record shows that the overwhelming majority of graduates have not been involved in human rights abuses, but in fact have supported human rights and democracy.

Instead of focusing on the negative, why not look at the majority of graduates who have served their nations proudly and professionally? Out of the seventeen countries in Central and South America, fourteen of them were under military dictatorships at various times in the 1970s and 1980s and some even into the 1990s. Now, all of these countries are under some type of democracy. The School's graduates have played prominent roles in preventing a military take- over during a recent presidential impeachment in Paraguay, and graduates helped prevent a coup during a constitutional crisis in Ecuador not long ago. These facts speak volumes for a school that is dedicated to the teaching of military professionalism primarily to Latin American officers. This military professionalism, like ours in the United States, teaches protection of citizens' rights and civilian control of the military. Today, if you travel through Central America, you will see School of the Americas graduates working hand in hand with U.S. military personnel still delivering relief supplies to Hurricane Mitch victims and rebuilding devastated parts of their countries. School of the Americas graduates are also working with the Organization of American States, not as torturers or assassins; rather they are providing humanitarian assistance in Central America and serving in peacekeeping operations around the world. Key members of the delegations that fostered the peace accord between Ecuador and Peru and ended the conflict between those two countries in 1995 were School of the Americas graduates from Peru, Ecuador, Chile and the United States. Another example of the School's humanitarian programs is its demining training. In 1998, the School of the Americas was asked to implement an effective humanitarian demining program that would help South American countries relieve human suffering and develop indigenous demining capabilities. Thus far, the School has graduated over 100 students from South America in humanitarian demining operations. These graduates will join thousands of other School of the Americas graduates who are on the front lines of humanitarianism and democracy in Latin America.

During the past ten years, the School has been examined under a microscope. It has undergone twelve separate investigations since 1989. These investigations examined the School's curriculum, its texts, and questioned hundreds of graduates and faculty members, past and present. All investigations came to the same conclusion. The conclusions were that the charges made against the School of the Americas are false and the school is in full compliance with U.S. law and policy. Additional oversight is provided by a distinguished Board of Visitors that includes noted human rights figures, like Mr. Steve Schneebaum.

In the interview, Fr. Bourgeois speaks of the poverty in Latin America and how the land is concentrated in the hands of a small group, the oligarchy. This is true. But, how can a U.S. Army school be blamed for a flawed system that has been in effect for more than a hundred years in many of these countries. Fr. Bourgeois continues to hack at the leaves of the tree, when the problems in Latin America require someone to strike at the root. If he is really serious about solving the problems of Latin America and helping the poor, why is he not down there on the front line working with one of the many Catholic missions in that area, instead of leading protests at Fort Benning?

Why did Father Bourgeois visit Mobile? It was not merely by chance that he came here. Over the years Father Bourgeois and his group have become very adept at propagandizing religious groups and the U.S. Congress. Father Bourgeois came to Mobile with his anti-School of the Americas agenda for two primary reasons. First, Mobile has a large Catholic community for him to attempt to manipulate and use. Second, this is Congressman Sonny Callahan's district, and Sonny Callahan has been a supporter of the School. Father Bourgeois would like us Mobilians to change Sonny Callahan's mind.

The bottom line is, once all of the facts are examined, we have a churchless priest, Fr. Bourgeois, and his small group of followers out to close a U.S. Army School that has a proven record of promoting democracy, human rights and military professionalism. The sad and scary part of all this is that they have almost succeeded. Fr. Bourgeois' group will use any measure including intimidation and law breaking in their attempting to close the School. This small, but vehement group has lobbied the U.S. Congress extensively. They have misled Congress and have duped many Congressmen into voting to withhold funds to the School. If it were not for our own beloved Congressional Representative, Sonny Callahan, they might have succeeded. Sonny Callahan has refused to be misled by Fr. Bourgeois and his followers and has based his decision and support on the facts. Sonny Callahan continues to support the School and we need to support him. We must save this historically vital part of our Army. Do not let this radical group decide what school we should or should not have in the U.S. Army. I ask that people call Sonny Callahan's office at 690-2811 and lend your support to retaining the School of the Americas in the U.S. Army.

Pat Downing
Mobile, AL

Dear Editor,

letter3.gif - 20570 BytesHe came to his post as President Clinton's adviser on drugs in 1996 as the youngest four-star general in the United States army and a former commander in chief of the US armed forces' southern command, and was effectively the chief US military figure in Central and South America. He had been an adviser on Latin American internal security policy and a major player in Operation Desert Storm. Last weekend he came in London to share his knowledge and views with British ministers and agencies.

Barry McCaffrey, the director of the White House office of national drug control policy, better known as the US drug tsar, has responsibility for a $17.8 million federal control budget, so his views are likely to command attention. But how seriously should he be taken?

McCaffrey's military credentials must have seemed suitably impressive to a president lumbered with a reputation for having smoked cannabis but not inhaled. Who better to tackle such a mighty issue?

The general wasted no time in attacking those perceived to be soft on the subject. In 1996 he announced: "There is not a single shred of evidence that shows that smoked marijuana is useful or needed. This is not science. This is not medicine. This is a cruel hoax." The American National Institute of Health begged to differ by stating that "inhaled marijuana has the potential to improve chemotherapy-related nausea and vomiting" or, in other words, it could be of value to cancer sufferers.

The following year, McCaffrey stated unequivocally that "marijuana is a gateway drug." But statistics from the Department of Health and Human Resources showed that "for every 104 people who have used marijuana, there is one regular user of cocaine and less than one heroin addict".

Perhaps his most controversial claim concerns the Netherlands, which has one of the most liberal drug policies in the world in terms of the provision of needle exchange for addicts and sanctioning of the sale of cannabis in regulated cafes. "The murder rate in Holland is double that in the United States and the per capita crime rates are much higher than the United States," he said last year. "That's drugs."

The Dutch ambassador to the US responded that McCaffrey's claims had "no basis in fact." The figures quoted by McCaffrey showed that the US had a rate of 8.2 murders per 100,000 population compared with 17.58 murders in the Netherlands. In fact, his researchers had included the "attempted murders" figure in the total by mistake. The true figure was 1.8 per 100,000 in the Netherlands, making the American rate more than four times as high. When challenged on the figures, McCaffrey's spokesman responded imaginatively: "What you are left with is that they [the Dutch] are a much more violent society and more inept at murders and that's not much to brag about." Indeed not. What he gave less prominence to was the fact that the US heroin addiction rate runs at about eight times the level in the Netherlands.

Last June McCaffrey told a US government criminal justice and drug policy sub- committee in Washington that the only people who backed drug reform in the US were "a carefully camouflaged, well-funded, tightly knit core of people whose goal is to legalize drug use." This is also worth scrutiny. Among those in favor of drug law reform are the governors of New Mexico and Minnesota, who are hardly in carefully camouflaged positions. The "well- funded" group he was probably referring to is the Lindesmith centre, a drug policy institute funded by the financier George Soros, an involvement about which Soros is perfectly open.

Not all Barry McCaffrey's statements have been recanted or contested. Shortly after coming to office he said that "we cannot arrest our way out of the drug problem."

This may or may not be of great comfort to those 700,000 people arrested in the US last year for marijuana offenses, or the 400,000 prisoners serving time for drug offenses, but is seen as an acceptance that there are other ways of addressing the issue than the warehousing of a percentage of the American population. But of the federal budget on drugs, 60% is used for law enforcement while only 11% goes towards reducing its use among young people.

Barry McCaffrey has presided over a system where marijuana use has declined among American youth, masking an even greater rise in the adolescent use of crack and heroin," says Paul Lewin of the organization Common Sense for Drug Policies. "It is unlikely that most parents would be comfortable with a system that replaces marijuana with crack and heroin use."

During his stay in Britain, McCaffrey will have an opportunity to outline what he believes the US has accomplished beyond turning the prison system into the second biggest employer after General Motors. People should certainly listen to what he has to say. But perhaps it would be advisable not to inhale too deeply.

Duncan Campbell
United Kingdom

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