ATLANTA (Reuters) - Thousands of people demonstrated outside a big U.S. Army base on Sunday to demand the closure of a defense department training school they say promotes torture and murder in Latin America.
Long-shot Democratic presidential hopeful Dennis Kucinich joined the annual protest outside the Fort Benning Army base in Georgia to shut down the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.
Protesters say it teaches security personnel from Latin American countries to use repressive tactics and that graduates have overthrown legitimate governments, citing a coup against Chile President Salvador Allende in 1973 as an example.
“Over the course of several decades people trained here have murdered and tortured hundreds if not thousands of people,” protester Bob Goodman of the Georgia Coalition for Peace and Justice said in an interview.
But a spokesman for the institute, the defense department’s main Spanish-language training facility, denied it was involved in immoral activity and said promoting democracy was at the core of its mission.
“It (the accusation) was never true and saying so with no evidence is a moral slander on the people who work there. This is a U.S. army school that has to follow the doctrines and rules that apply to the U.S. army,” said Lee Rials, spokesman for the institute.
Goodman said 20,000 people attended the two-day protest. Monica Manganaro, a spokeswoman for Fort Benning where the institute is located, said there were 11,200 demonstrators and 11 people were arrested and charged with criminal trespass.
On its Web site, the institute, formerly known as the School of the Americas, said it taught a range of professional courses and has “developed and implemented meaningful and effective training in democracy, ethics and human rights.”
Editing by Chris Wilson
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