|Birddogging an Unsupportive Member - Melissa Hart, PA|
An idea for how to try to influence a Member of Congress who has been unsupportive and unresponsive.
Group urges Rep. Hart to help close WHISC
Local activists are urging Rep. Melissa Hart, R-4th District, to co-sign legislation that would officially close the Department of Defense's Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, a training facility for Latin American military personnel.
About 10 activists, mainly members of the Western Pennsylvania School of the Americas Watch, picketed Downtown outside of One Oxford Center Thursday evening, where Hart was speaking in the Rivers Club.
WHISC, formerly known as the School of the Americas, has been criticized as producing graduates who use terroristic tactics toward unionists and human rights activists in their home countries.
Although the school underwent formal changes in 2001 in response to these criticisms, the only thing that has changed is the name, said Chad Skaggs, 22, a member of WPA-SOAW.
Although WHISC now says that they teach human rights classes, Skaggs said the SOA also taught human rights classes, but still produced graduates who murdered, raped and tortured others who spoke out against trade and economic agreements with the United States.
As of now, about 25 percent of Congress has signed legislation that would close WHISC, Skaggs said.
But Hart, who gave a speech on Latin America on Thursday, has not co-signed the legislation.
"It doesn't seem as though she has Latin Americans' interests at heart," said Serena Spenser, another WPA-SOAW member.
WPA-SOAW, a 4-year-old organization within the Thomas Merton Center, is a grassroots group formed for the specific purpose of non-violently protesting the SOA, and now WHISC.
Spenser became involved in the movement against WHISC after she taught an English as a second language class at Pitt.
After hearing some of her students' stories of terrorism in their own countries, Spenser took a personal interest in the issue.
In 2000, Spenser was detained, along with 1,700 others, after picketing in front of Fort Benning in Georgia, where WHISC is located.
Recently, another WPA-SOAW member, Bernard Survil, "crossed the line" at Fort Benning by trespassing onto the property.
He has since been found guilty and will be serving a three-month sentence in jail in a few weeks, Survil said.
Although there are many schools in the United States that train foreign soldiers, WPA-SOAW focuses solely on WHISC because its graduates have performed some of the worst atrocities, Spenser said. She added that focusing energy and resources on one school would produce more results than protesting many schools.
U.S. schools train military personnel from all over the world, Spenser said.
"We trained Osama bin Laden*, and he was not unusual," she said.
Although the U.S. government says people like bin Laden are just a "few bad apples," she said, one study used statistics to show that the amount of time a person spent at the SOA was correlated with the severity of terroristic actions that person performed.
"Either [WHISC is] not teaching them very well, or they're very bad learners," Spenser said.
The United States trains soldiers from many other countries because its leaders like to control other countries, she said.
"The U.S. trains people from all over the world, and then they're indebted to us," she explained.
According to Spenser, the U.S. government is sending the message, "We're bigger, we're badder ... and, in fact, we'll train your people to turn against you."
Although the average American may think that the issue of WHISC does not affect him or her, he should be concerned, Spenser said.
Americans need to evaluate how their tax money is being spent, she said.
A couple of Pitt students from Students in Solidarity also attended the protest, serving as sign-bearers.
A picture of Hart was on the signs with a word bubble stating, "I'm your congresswomen, Melissa Hart, and I support terrorism and death squads in Latin America."
"We should not train anybody on our soil [to terrorize others]," Spenser said.
* note from SOA Watch: Osama bin Laden was trained by the CIA via the Pakistani Intelligence Agency in an effort to fight communism in Afghanistan.
Article first appeared 2/20/04 (by Rochelle Hentges)
733 Euclid Street NW
Washington, DC 20001