Thursday, August 8, 2019

Five in Operation Condor sentenced to life: U.S. trained assassins for torture and assassinations in the Americas






A folder reading "Terrorists" on its cover, that forms part of the "Archives of Terror" is pictured at the Documentation and Archive Center for Human Rights Defense, at the Justice Palace in Asuncion, on January 16, 2019. - The archives that were found in 1992 at a police station in Asuncion, contain the most important documentation of the exchange of intelligence information and prisoners among the military regimes of the region known as "Operation Condor". The files served to order the arrest of former Pa
A folder reading "Terrorists" on its cover, that forms part of the "Archives of Terror" is pictured at the Documentation and Archive Center for Human Rights Defense, at the Justice Palace in Asuncion, on January 16, 2019. - The archives that were found in 1992 at a police station in Asuncion, contain the most important documentation of the exchange of intelligence information and prisoners among the military regimes of the region known as "Operation Condor". The files served to order the arrest of former Paraguayan dictator (1954-89) Alfredo Stroessner and provided tools for numerous trials against Argentine, Chilean and Uruguayan repressors. (Photo: Norberto Duarte/AFP/Getty Images)


Five in Operation Condor sentenced to life: U.S. trained assassins for torture and assassinations in the Americas

A court in Italy has sentenced five in Operation Condor to life in prison. The United States has never been held responsible for its role, including training those who carried out the kidnappings, torture, disappearances and assassinations in Central and South America during the 1970s and 1980s. Tucson residents played an important role in bringing 10,000 Indigenous Peoples across the border to safety during the Sanctuary Movement, creating local support and an underground railroad north, for students, farmers, mothers, and human rights activists, who struggled against the horror of these regimes. The U.S. trained torturers from the School of the Americas were known for throwing young people from helicopters, and large scale massacres of Indigenous Peoples and students, followed by dynamiting their bodies. Torture was widespread. Amnesty International workers were among those targeted. It was in this way that the United States placed those never elected as heads of governments in Central and South America, those who were involved in the torture and assassinations. Today, we see the results as people flee the longstanding horror of these governments. Now, as they arrive, once again, they face abuse, imprisonment and torture. Now, even their children face these horrors in the U.S.

By Brenda Norrell
Censored News

TUCSON -- The Campaign of Terror -- the torture, kidnappings, disappearances and assassinations -- in South America, were carried out by those trained by the United States, during Presidents Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter and Reagan administrations.

Although the United States has never been held accountable, this week an Italian court sentenced five South American government and military officials to life sentences for their roles assassinations of Italian nationals, during this U.S. backed dirty Cold War in the 1970s and 1980s.

The United States stated at the time it knew of the disappearances and dynamiting of bodies by those it had trained. The goal was to silence human rights activists, and grassroots Indigenous Peoples, students and others struggling for justice. The United States has never been held accountable.

Rebecca Gordon, describes the US CIA role in torture in her article Crimes of the War on Terror: Should George Bush, Dick Cheney, and Others Be Jailed?


"The cold was terrible but the screams were worse," Sara Mendez told the BBC. "The screams of those who were being tortured were the first thing you heard and they made you shiver."

"A CIA intelligence report describes how the dynamiting of the bodies of 30 people executed in Argentina in 1976, scattering their remains widely, was meant to intimidate other so-called militants into being quiet just months after the military coup. Another CIA report describes how Operation Condor targeted officials with Amnesty International and other human rights groups and planned overseas missions in Europe to ‘liquidate’ 'targets'," School of Americas SOA Watch reports.

Tucson played an important role in saving the lives of more than 10,000 Indigenous Peoples. Residents of Tucson and the area brought thousands of Indigenous People across the border in Arizona to safety, in the Sanctuary Movement. They risked their own lives and freedom to create an underground railroad north and local support during the 1970s and 1980s.

Much of this support was based at U.S. military installations in Panama.

"It was there that the US Army opened the School of the Americas in 1946, which would graduate 11 Latin American heads of state over the following decades. None of them became their country’s leader by democratic means, leading critics to dub the SOA “School of Assassins” and “School of Coups” because it produced so many of both," Common Dreams reports.

Brett Wilkins at Common Dreams reports:

Five of the 24 men sentenced last week by an Italian court to life in prison for their roles in a brutal and bloody U.S.-backed Cold War campaign against South American dissidents graduated from a notorious US Army school once known for teaching torture, assassination, and democracy suppression.

On July 8 judges in Rome’s Court of Appeals sentenced the former Bolivian, Chilean, Peruvian and Uruguayan government and military officials after they were found guilty of kidnapping and murdering 23 Italian nationals in the 1970s and 1980s during Operation Condor, a coordinated effort by right-wing military dictatorships in Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Paraguay, Brazil—and, later, Peru and Ecuador—against perceived leftist threats. The campaign, which was characterized by kidnappings, torture, disappearances and murder, claimed an estimated 60,000 lives, according to human rights groups. Victims included leftists and other dissidents, clergy, intellectuals, academics, students, peasant and trade union leaders, and indigenous peoples.

The United States government—including military and intelligence agencies—supported Operation Condor with military aid, planning, and technical support as well as surveillance and torture training during the Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter and Reagan administrations. Much of this support, which the U.S. attempted to justify within the context of the global Cold War struggle against communism, was based at U.S. military installations in Panama. It was there that the US Army opened the School of the Americas in 1946, which would graduate 11 Latin American heads of state over the following decades. None of them became their country’s leader by democratic means, leading critics to dub the SOA “School of Assassins” and “School of Coups” because it produced so many of both.

SOA’s most notorious graduates include narco-trafficking Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, the genocidal Guatemalan military dictator Efraín Ríos Montt, Bolivian despot Hugo Banzer (known for sheltering Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie), Haitian death squad commander and military dictator Raoul Cédras and Argentine strongman Leopoldo Galtieri, who presided during a period of his country’s “Dirty War” in which tens of thousands of innocent men and women were disappeared. Countless other war criminals have studied at the SOA, sometimes using U.S. manuals that taught kidnapping, torture, assassination, and democracy suppression techniques.

Some of the worst massacres and other atrocities perpetrated by U.S.-backed forces during the civil wars in El Salvador and Guatemala during the 1980s, including the slaughter of 900 villagers—mostly women and children—at El Mozote, the assassination of Salvadoran archbishop Óscar Romero and the rape and murder of four U.S. churchwomen who worked with him, were planned, committed or covered up by SOA graduates. So were a series of chainsaw massacres in Colombia, the murder of four Dutch journalists in El Salvador, the assassination of a former Chilean official and his U.S. aide in a 1976 car bombing in Washington, D.C. and many other atrocities.

It can now be revealed that several men sentenced to life in prison in Rome last week are also SOA graduates. According to a database of over 60,000 SOA alumni compiled from U.S. military records by School of the Americas Watch (SOAW), a Georgia-based activist group founded by Father Roy Bourgeois in 1990, five SOA trainees are among the 24 men found guilty by the Italian court. Two of them are named among SOAW’s “most notorious SOA graduates”: former Bolivian interior minister Luis Arce Gómez, who is currently serving a 30-year prison term for genocide, assassination and drug trafficking, and Luis Alfredo Maurente, a Uruguayan captain implicated in the torture and disappearance of nearly 100 people in Uruguay and Argentina. Arce Gomez completed communications, tactical officer and radio repair courses at SOA in 1958; Maurente attended SOA in 1969 and 1976, studying military intelligence. The three other SOA graduates uncovered among the 24 defendants are: Hernán Ramírez Ramírez (Chile; command course, 1970), Ernesto Avelino Ramas Pereira (Uruguay; motor officer course, 1962) and Pedro Antonio Mato Narbondo (Uruguay; unspecified, 1970).

SOA operated in Panama from 1946 until 1984, when it was relocated to Fort Benning, Georgia. In a bid to rebrand itself amid growing public outcry over graduate atrocities, SOA changed its named to the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) in 2000, with a greater emphasis on human rights. However, the school’s alumni continue to make dubious headlines to this day, with four of the six generalsbehind the 2009 Honduran coup and former Mexican commandos now employed as mercenaries for international drug cartels among its more notorious recent alumni.

It is unclear whether many of the defendants in the Rome case will face justice, as all but one of the 24 were tried in absentia under the legal concept of universal jurisdiction. Uruguay, which does not allow for life sentences, has previously jailed people convicted of similar crimes. A January 2017 ruling by an Italian court had sentenced eight of the defendants, including the late former Bolivian dictator Luis García Meza, former Peruvian president Francisco Morales Bermúdez, and former Uruguayan foreign minister Juan Carlos Blanco— who is now under house arrest in Montevideo—to life behind bars, while acquitting 19 others due to statutes of limitations. Those acquittals were reversed by Monday’s appellate decision.

School of Americas reports:
In July, an Italian appeals court sentenced 24 former officials from Bolivia, Chile, Peru, and Uruguay to life in prison for their roles in Operation Condor -- a brutal and extremely deadly US-backed operation in the 1970s and 1980s that targeted leftists, activists, social movement leaders, and others who spoke out. Operation Condor kidnapped, tortured, disappeared and/or murdered an estimated 60,000 people across South America. As reported in an article on Common Dreams, 5 of the 24 former officials from South American dictatorships sentenced by the Italian court were trained at the U.S. Army School of the Americas. Read more here.

Italian nationals were among those who were kidnapped, forcibly disappeared, and murdered by Operation Condor, leading families of the victims to start this case in the Italian justice system two decades ago. A 2017 lower court ruling had sentenced 8 of the defendants but the others had been acquitted because of the statute of limitations. The appeals court decision this July reverses the acquittals. However, it is unknown if the sentences will be implemented as only one of the defendants was present; the majority were tried in absentia.

Declassified documents posted by the National Security Archive illustrate why it is vitally important to hold the United States responsible for its support of Operation Condor. A six page cable from the US Embassy in Argentina to the State Department in 1980 reported that the Argentine military would not stop using disappearance as a preferred tactic and attempted to explain why. A CIA intelligence report describes how the dynamiting of the bodies of 30 people executed in Argentina in 1976, scattering their remains widely, was meant to intimidate other so-called militants into being quiet just months after the military coup. Another CIA report describes how Operation Condor targeted officials with Amnesty International and other human rights groups and planned overseas missions in Europe to ‘liquidate’ 'targets'. There will not be true justice until the US government is also held to account for its role in financing, training, and supporting Operation Condor’s atrocities throughout the Southern Cone.

The SOA graduates convicted by the Italian court are Luis Arce Gomez of Bolivia, who is already serving a 30 year sentence for genocide, Luis Alfredo Maurente of Uruguay, Hernan Ramírez Ramírez of Chile, Pedro Antonio Mato of Uruguay, and Ernesto Avelino Ramas Pereira of Uruguay.

These are not the only SOA graduates who have been in the news recently. Also in Italy, SOA graduate Walter Klug of Chile was detained. Klug was hiding from justice, and is accused of murdering 7 people and forcibly disappearing 16 others in the 1970s. SOA graduate Juan Miguel Fuente-Alba, also of Chile, was recently accused of embezzlement of more than 5 million dollars of public funds, and fellow SOA graduate Antonio Cordero Kehr was accused of emitting false invoices.

We are grateful to all those who continue to work day after day, year after year, to advance truth and justice for the atrocities committed during Operation Condor.

Join us in remembering those who were murdered and disappeared at the hands of SOA graduates and calling for the closure of the SOA-WHINSEC this November 15-17 at Ft. Benning, Georgia.

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