Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach

A Poem by Columban Father, Dennis O’Mara

September 10, 2013

  Dennis O'Mara

During the Pinochet Era in Chile, Father Dennis Omara worked with and served people who were tortured by the Chilean secret service for more than six years. There he learned of the School of the Americas, a program in the United States that trained military officials from Latin America in torture techniques. He stood in solidarity with those he served and was eventually deported to the U.S. for his efforts with the peace community in opposing the Chilean Government’s practice of torturing Chilean citizens. After his return from Chile he said, “We have the right and the obligation of responding to the wounded person who suffers torture.” Below is a poem by Father Denny inspired by his time in Chile and the urgency to close the School of the Americas:


I’m at School of the Americas.
I won”t forget a colonel’s words
one day when he was asked
about our use of torture.

“Torture? Torture is the way
to get their info, make them tell
their leader’s names,
the plans they’ve made,
subversive acts they’ve done.”

“Your countries need protection from
subversives and from communists
who work against your people’s good.
They only want to hurt, destroy
your governments, your way of life.”

“With waterboarding, electric shock,
and other methods we will teach,
you’ll make your nations more secure.
Your nation’s security must come first.”

“We’re proud of SOA graduates.
They practice what they learned from us
in Guatemala, El Salvador,
Columbia and other lands.
They’ve helped their countries be more secure.”

“Leftwingers and the ignorant
will criticize what you have learned
and what you do when you go home.
Don’t pay attention to their words.
Just make your nations more secure.”

These words disturbed a few of us
who witnessed or had heard about
SOA graduates’ brutality
towards innocents in our lands.

When we return from SOA
what orders will they give to us?
Will we be told to assassinate,
to torture those whom we arrest?
For most their crime is they oppose
what I myself know is unjust.

If we refuse to torture, kill,
what will they do to us?

I think I now do understand
why SOA should close:
Our nations are not more secure.
The techniques taught have done much harm.
They’ve caused more violence, fear and death,
created more opponents, not more peace.

I know my thoughts are dangerous;
if known, could cause me harm or death.
I go back home with fear, not hope.
I now regret my being here.
I pray that SOA will close;
that you will help to shut it down.

Dennis O’Mara April, 2013