Hidden In Plain Sight

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Hidden In Plain Sight

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John H. Smihula's documentary Hidden In Plain Sight nods at objectivity but announces its activist intentions throughout, with its Martin Sheen narration, comments by iconic firebrands Noam Chomsky and Christopher Hitchens, and an opening quote from late Colombian president Simon Bolivar, who warned about U.S. intervention in Central America in the early 1800s. The movie covers the history and legacy of the School Of The Americas, a military training facility founded in the 1940s to share knowledge with security forces south of the U.S.-Mexican border. The institution's profile was raised during the Cold War and especially after the Cuban revolution, when the U.S. took an active interest in quashing budding revolts. By the '80s, stories began to trickle to the press about torture posses led by men who attended the SOA, and massive demonstrations through the next two decades led to the school being shut down in 2000, though it quickly reopened in the same location as The Western Hemisphere Institute Of Security Cooperation. Hitchens notes the openness of the SOA's operation, saying that the U.S. government's "unashamed" attitude only proves its intent to use the school as a weapon of intimidation. That same openness allows Smihula to obtain access to U.S. military leaders and former SOA instructors, whose defense of the institution–claims that combat training comprised less than a fifth of its syllabus, and that most SOA-trained thugs were tainted before they got to the school–are quickly disputed by critics who contend that its methods of murder continue to spread unchecked. Hidden In Plain Sight doesn't benefit from Smihula's local-news-quality production or his use of ominous flutes, martial drums, and jungle noises on the soundtrack. More troubling, the documentary is damnably sketchy, padded out by exploitative images of Central American violence presented mostly without context. (The footage of mayhem could just as easily be an argument that outside forces are necessary.) Smihula allows too many loaded statements by protesters to pass uncontested and unexplained, like the contention that the actions of U.S.-backed insurgents amount to "a war against the poor." Their overkill and Smihula's is unnecessary: Six decades of underprivileged people looking for help and being shown how to kill ought to provide outrage enough.

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