Crowds gather to protest the School of the Americas - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

Crowds gather to protest the School of the Americas

Fort Benning says the School of the Americas has been closed for more than 10 years, but protestors still gather at the Stone Gate of Fort Benning rallying against its successor the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, or WHINSEC. 

Hendrik Voss is the national organizer for the SOA Watch and says this demonstrations has been going on for 21 years.

"They are teaching them in combat skills that those soldiers are using against their own people.  No armies in Latin America are currently defending their borders against invading armies, but they are using the skills against their own people," said Voss.

Voss claims the school has transformed Latin American soldiers who train into "killers."  While he does not believe they are in use now, he says at one time there were manuals on torturing.

"But, we think the mind set is still the same that the military, the people with guns are supposed to take care of social problems which should be solved in other ways."

[SLIDESHOW :SOA Protesters at Fort Benning]

Lee Rials, the Public Information Officer with WHINSEC, says while the protesters have the right to demonstrate, their accusations of the institution training foreign leaders to kill civilians is inaccurate.

"There has never been even one example of people using what he has learned in the U.S. Series of schools to commit any crime whatsoever," said Rials.

He says the school teaches the same things U.S. soldiers are learning just in Spanish with the curriculum including things like human rights, leadership development, and counterdrug operations. 

"Any one is welcome to come visit us any work day and they can sit in the classes, and talk with students and faculty.  They can look at our instructional materials.  Whatever they like to do, they can see."

 Many protesters say their goal is to close the doors of WHINSEC, but Tammy Hart, whose husband is stationed here, walked alone with a sign saying God Bless Fort Benning.

"Without what our troops and our men and women, would you have the right to stand out here with freedom of speech, I mean can you do this in other countries?"

The demonstrations will continue tomorrow with a vigil at the Stone Gate of Fort Benning at 8:45 am.

Protesters say it is in honor of those they believe were killed by the some school's graduates.

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