By: Sara Belsole
The annual School of the Americas Watch protest is just around the corner and for the first time, the SOA Watch is fresh off a meeting with the White House.
On Saturday, hundreds of School of the Americas Watch members will converge at the stone gate entrance of Fort Benning to protest the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation or WHINSEC...or what SOA Watch members like Hendrik Voss, still refer to as the School of the Americas.
"We are asking that the School of the Americas be shut down without delay." Voss said, "The jury is no longer out, that there have been 100's of 1,000s of people killed throughout Latin America, that the school has caused suffering and death."
Organizers say this year ''s protest is extra special. For the first time in 22 years, SOA National Organizer Hendrik Voss and six other members met with Deputy National Security Advisor Denis McDonough in Washington D.C. yesterday.
"The White House was really listening to us, we are on different pages on how we see the school but we did agree that the school does put that light on the United States throughout Latin America that it has a very bad reputation."
But WHINSEC Commandant Colonel Glenn Huber disagrees and says their school does valuable work.
"I like to focus on what the Institute is doing," Col. Huber said, "And that's providing professional military education to many of the students who come through here."
WHINSEC Commandant Colonel Glenn Huber is also quick to note there is major distinction between the School of Americas and WHINSEC, which opened in January 2001.
"The big difference is I think the areas that we operate under. SOA was operating under the paradigm of the Cold War if you will."
Huber says September 11th solidified the change and the need for the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.
"We are in it together, these trans-national criminal organizations and threats affect us all whether it be through the drug trade or other illicit trafficking."
And Col. Huber takes offense that anyone would protest the institute today.
"To take an argument that is based perhaps in decades past, late 70s if you will and to say this is still happening here at this institute, I think is disingenuous and intellectually void."
Huber says the majority of protesters haven't taken WHINSEC up on its offer to visit the campus.
"Intellectual dishonesty, they prefer not to come here and come one weekend in November to claim this institute is still linked to the past."
But SOA National Organizer Hendrik Voss says they have plenty of people who support their side of the issue. "We have hundreds of organizations representing millions of people who are putting their political weight behind the campaign.
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