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Set backs to close soa { July 30 1999 }

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U.S. House deals setback to Army School of the Americas

July 30, 1999
Web posted at: 6:53 a.m. EDT (1053 GMT)

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, July 30) -- Opponents of the U.S. Army's controversial School of the Americas are celebrating a victory on Capitol Hill.

The House of Representatives moved Thursday to cut funding for the school that has trained thousands of Latin American military and police officials.

The 230-197 vote during debate on the fiscal 2000 foreign operations spending bill marked the first congressional setback for the school since religious activists launched a campaign to close it a decade ago. They have argued the school's graduates include some of the worst murderers and human rights abusers in Latin American history.

"All these years of going to prison, fasting and protesting, it's been a long, hard struggle," said Father Roy Bourgeois, the Maryknoll priest who launched the campaign after graduates of the school were linked to the 1989 murders of six Jesuit priests and two women in El Salvador.

Bill would cut fraction of school's funds
The House action, which will be an issue for a conference with the Senate on the foreign operations bill, would eliminate only about 10 percent of the $20 million in federal funds earmarked next year for the school. The rest of its funding comes from the Pentagon budget.

The school, located at Fort Benning near Columbus, Georgia, had survived four previous House votes since 1993.

Rep. Joe Moakley, D-Massachusetts, who led the congressional investigation into those 1989 murders, sponsored the amendment Thursday night that led to the House vote.

"If we don't stand for human rights in Georgia, how can we possibly promote them elsewhere in the world?" Moakley asked.

Supporters say school has cleaned up its act
Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Georgia, a longtime proponent of the school, argued that 12 investigations by Congress and the Pentagon over the past decade have disproved allegations that the school teaches torture and murder to its Latin American military students.

"Those who persist in accusing the school of criminal and evil conduct are turning their backs on the facts," said Bishop.

Rep. Sonny Callahan, R-Alabama, chairman of the foreign operations appropriations subcommittee, said he has sent investigators from his panel to Georgia four times to ensure that the school is not teaching terrorism tactics or promoting human rights abuses.

"The school has cleaned up its act," said Callahan. "The only thing we hear year after year are the atrocities committed by graduates of the school decades ago."

The Pentagon says the school is a key part of U.S. strategy in Latin America, encouraging civilian control of military forces and respect for human rights. The school says it also educates its students on peacekeeping and anti-drug operations.

But Congressional opponents argued that human rights abuses by the school's graduates are continuing even today, and that the institution is no longer needed now that the Cold War is over and most Latin American dictatorships have been replaced by democracies.

"This school is a blemish on the image of the United States among the people of Latin America," said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Massachusetts, who as an aide to Moakley a decade ago helped investigate the slayings of the Jesuit priests in El Salvador.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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