While CIA recruiters met with interested Winthrop University students Wednesday at Dinkins Student Center, about 30 students and faculty members marched, chanted and gave speeches outside in a rally against the agency's practices.
"If they have the right to recruit on our campus, we have the right to tell them what the CIA does," said sophomore Porsche Hill, an English major involved with the campus chapter of Amnesty International.
Participants said the CIA condones torture and has brought down democratic governments in other countries. The purpose of the rally was not to protest the CIA's presence on campus but rather to ask students to do their research before signing up for a job.
Hill, who sat inside a wooden coffin borrowed from the drama department, said she wanted her fellow students to be fully educated on the CIA's practices.
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Human rights groups and some Washington lawmakers have criticized the CIA in recent months for what they call inhumane treatment of terror suspects.
Last week, The New York Times discovered the existence of two Justice Department legal opinions authorizing CIA agents to use harsh interrogation tactics. President Bush has denied accusations that the CIA tortures prisoners and has defended the CIA's tactics as important for preventing terrorist attacks.
University officials stood by the group's right to protest, saying a university should be a marketplace of ideas.
People involved in the rally carried signs telling human rights, the Geneva Convention and humanity to "R.I.P."
The activities did not draw much of a crowd, but many students listened briefly before entering the student center.
"I support the process of what they're doing," said Wendy Adams, a political science student who sat on the steps of Dinkins to watch the protest. "I don't necessarily agree with their opinion."
Adams, who is an ex-police officer and a former member of the Air Force, said she believes the CIA is necessary, although sometimes its tactics are questionable.
"I have to believe in the law and the process," she said.
Opportunity for students
Inside, about 50 students packed a meeting room to learn about job opportunities with the CIA. Two retired CIA officers talked to students about the mission of the agency and what life is like as an agent.
The recruiters declined to comment, but a CIA spokesman said this week that representatives try to be as forthcoming as possible during information sessions.
CIA representatives contacted Winthrop about holding the session. It is the first time in several years the agency has been on campus.
"I thought it was a great opportunity for students because they have a wide variety of opportunities," said Tom Injaychock, associate director of the Winthrop center for career development and service learning.
Injaychock said he had no idea the visit would spur controversy. Some students at the information session had the same reaction.
"I was surprised because it's the government," senior Angela Pyron said. "And it's interesting to see U.S. citizens saying something about our government."