The Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation
), formerly the School of the Americas
: Escuela de las Américas
) is a United States Department of Defense
facility at Fort Benning
near Columbus, Georgia
Between 1946 and 2001, the SOA trained more than 61,000 Latin American soldiers and policemen. Some of them became notorious for having been responsible for human rights violations, including generals Leopoldo Galtieri and Manuel Noriega, dictators such as Bolivia's Hugo Banzer as well as some of Augusto Pinochet's officers. The terrorist Luis Posada Carriles was educated here by 1961, although he never graduated. Critics of the school argue that the education encouraged such practices and that this continues in the WHINSEC. This is denied by the WHINSEC and its supporters who argue that the alleged connection is at least sometimes weak. According to the WHINSEC the education now emphasizes democracy and human rights.
In 1946, in the early days of the Cold War
, the Latin American Training Center – U.S. Ground Forces
was established in Panama
in buildings that now house the Melia Hotel.
During 1949 it was expanded and became the U.S. Army Caribbean Training Center. It was expanded and renamed the U.S. Army School of the Americas in 1963. It relocated to Fort Benning in 1984, following the signing of the Panama Canal Treaty. More than 61,000 military personnel attended these United States Army schools.
The School of the Americas taught military education courses as they were taught in U. S. Armed Forces institutions -- the School translated the courses, lessons plans and all, into Spanish. Beginning in 1963, and evolving as the region changed, SOA taught, at various times, professional military education and training courses to officers and non-commissioned officers in the areas of:
- professional leadership (Command and General Staff course, Military Police courses, Infantry Officers Basic course, Artillery Officers course and a Cadet Orientation course);
- infantry weapons (Mortar Officer course);
- technical support (Engineer Basic and Officer courses, Radio Operators course, Small Caliber Repair course,
- Wheeled Vehicle Maintenance course and Medical Assistance courses);
- counter-insurgency (Internal Defense and Development course, Military Intelligence course, Military Police course), introduced during 1963; and
- specialized leadership and skills (Ranger course, Air Mobile course, Jungle Operations course, Patrolling course, Parachute Rigging course, Basic Airborne course, Pathfinder and Jumpmaster courses).
The current WHINSEC, now part of the United States Department of Defense, was created as part of the National Defense Authorization Act by Congress in 2001. The WHINSEC teaches primarily in the Spanish language, especially for Latin American military personnel, but is now also open for civilians and persons from outside Latin America. Presently roughly 700-1,000 students per year attend WHINSEC.
According to official web site, the WHINSEC was established "to provide professional education and training to eligible persons of the nations of the Western Hemisphere within the context of the democratic principles set forth in the Charter of the Organization of American States." Its "mission also includes fostering mutual knowledge, transparency, confidence, and cooperation by promoting democratic values; respect for human rights; and an understanding of U.S. customs and traditions. Specific subjects set by Congress include leadership development; counterdrug; peacekeeping; democratic sustainment; resource management; and disaster preparedness and relief planning. In every course offered, eight hours of democracy and human rights instruction is mandatory. Its motto is Libertad, Paz y Fraternidad (Liberty, Peace and Brotherhood).
Currently all students are given a minimum of eight hours of instruction in "human rights, the rule of law, due process, civilian control of the military, and the role of the military in a democratic society." Courses must focus on leadership development, counter-drug operations, peace support operations, disaster relief, or "any other matter the Secretary [of Defense] deems appropriate.
According to the Center for International Policy, a "Board of Visitors" is required to review and evaluate "curriculum, instruction, physical equipment, fiscal affairs, and academic methods." A federal committee, the board must include the chairmen and ranking minority members of both houses' Armed Services Committees (or surrogates), the senior Army officer responsible for training (or a surrogate), one person chosen by the Secretary of State, the head of the U.S. Southern command (or a surrogate), and six people chosen by the Secretary of Defense ("including, to the extent practicable, persons from academia and the religious and human rights communities"). The board reviews the institute's curriculum to determine whether it complies with U.S. laws and doctrine, and whether it is consistent with U.S. policy goals toward Latin America and the Caribbean.
The School of the Americas has been criticized for the participation in human rights violations by some of its graduates. Critics argue that the education encouraged such practices and that this continues in the WHINSEC.
According to the Center for International Policy, "The School of the Americas had been questioned for years, as it trained many military personnel before and during the years of the "national security doctrine" -- the dirty war years in the Southern Cone and the civil war years in Central America -- in which Latin American militaries ruled or had disproportionate government influence and committed serious human rights violations. Training manuals used at the SOA and elsewhere from the early 1980s through 1991 promoted techniques that violated human rights and democratic standards. SOA and WHINSEC graduates continue to surface in news reports regarding both current human rights cases and new reports."
Defenders argue that today the curriculum includes human rights as described above. They also argue that no school should be held accountable for the actions of only some of its graduates.
Intelligence training manuals
On September 20
, the Pentagon released seven training manuals prepared by the U.S. military and used between 1987 and 1991 in Latin America and in intelligence
training courses at the U.S. School of the Americas (SOA). The manuals were based in part on lesson plans used by the school as far back as 1982 and, in turn, based in part on older material from Project X
According to Lisa Haugaard of School of the Americas Watch
, these manuals taught repressive techniques and promoted the violation of human rights throughout Latin America and around the globe. The manuals contain instructions in motivation by fear, bounties for enemy dead, false imprisonment, torture, execution, and kidnapping a target's family members. Joseph Kennedy
said "These manuals taught tactics that come right out of a Soviet gulag and have no place in civilized society." The Pentagon admitted that these manuals were a "mistake
After this investigation in 1992, the Department of Defense discontinued the use of the manuals, directed their recovery to the extent practicable, and destroyed the copies in the field. U.S. Southern Command advised governments in Latin America that the manuals contained passages that did not represent U.S. government policy, and pursued recovery of the manuals from the governments and some individual students.
In 2004, Venezuela ceased all training of Venezuelan soldiers at WHINSEC. On March 28
, the government of Argentina
, headed by President Nestor Kirchner
, decided to stop sending soldiers to train at WHINSEC, and the government of Uruguay
affirmed that it will continue its current policy of not sending soldiers to WHINSEC. In 2007, Oscar Arias
, president of Costa Rica
, decided to stop sending Costa Rican police to the WHINSEC. Costa Rica has no military, but had sent some 2,600 police officers to the school. In a letter to the Commandant of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), U.S. Army Col. Gilberto Perez
President Evo Morales
formally announced on February 18 2008
that he will not send Bolivian military or police officers to attend training programs at the institute formerly known as the U.S. Army School of the Americas (SOA).
A bill to abolish the school with 134 co-sponsors was introduced to the House Armed Services Committee in 2005.
In June 2007 the McGovern/Lewis Amendment to shut off funding for the Institute failed by 6 votes. This effort to close the Institute was endorsed by the non-partisan Council on Hemispheric Affairs who called the Institute a "black eye".
Since 1990, Washington, D.C.-based non profit human rights organization School of the Americas Watch
has worked to monitor graduates of the institution and to close the former SOA, now WHINSEC through legislative action, grassroots organizing and nonviolent direct action. It maintains a database with graduates of both the SOA and WHINSEC who have been accused of human rights violations and other criminal activity. In regard to the re-naming of the institution, SOA Watch claims that the approach taken by the Department of Defense is not grounded in any critical assessment of the training, procedures, performance, or results (consequences) of the training programs of the SOA. According to critics of the SOA, the name change ignores congressional concern and public outcry over the SOA’s past and present link to human rights atrocities.
SOA Watch sponsors an annual (since 1990) public demonstration of protest at Ft. Benning. In 2005, the demonstration drew 19,000 people. The protests are timed to coincide with the anniversary of the November 1989 murders of six Jesuit
priests, their housekeeper and her daughter in El Salvador
. A congressional panel concluded that 19 of the 27 killers were SOA graduates.
Notorious graduates of The School Of The Americas
According to SOA Watch
According to SOA Watch, many graduates of the SOA and WHINSEC are responsible for human rights violations and criminal activity in their home countries.
In August, 2007 according to an Associated Press
report Colonel Alberto Quijano
of the Colombian army's Special Forces was arrested for providing security and mobilizing troops for Diego León Montoya Sánchez
(alias “Don Diego”), the leader of the Norte del Valle Cartel
and one of the FBI
’s 10 most-wanted criminals. School of the Americas Watch said in a statement that it matched the names of those in the scandal with its database of attendees at the institute. Alberto Quijano attended courses and was an instructor who taught classes on Peacekeeping Operations and Democratic Sustainment at the school from 2003 to 2004. Others students are the Atlacatl Battalion
responsible for the El Mozote massacre
Critics of SOA Watch argue the connection is often misleading. According to Paul Mulshine, Roberto D'Aubuisson's sole link to the SOA is that he had taken a course in Radio Operations long before El Salvador's civil war began.
Educated according to other sources
The terrorist Luis Posada Carriles was educated by CIA in explosives and sabotage at Fort Benning (the actual location of the academy) before the Bay of Pigs invasion.
In 1992 the OAS Inter-American Commission on Human Rights recommended prosecution of Col. Cid Diaz for murder in association with the 1983 Las Hojas massacre. His name is on a State Department list of gross human rights abusers. Diaz went to the Institute in 2003.
- Danner, Mark (2004). Torture and Truth: America, Abu Ghraib, and the War on Terror. New York Review Books. ISBN 1-59017-152-7.
- Harbury, Jennifer K. (2005). Truth, Torture, and the American Way. Beacon Press. ISBN 0-8070-0307-7. Review, "Highlights parallels in the practices of U.S. government operatives and their local “assets” in the current conflict and in the civil wars that wracked Central America in the 1980s and early 1990s."
- Ireland, Doug (2004). "Teaching Torture: Despite a lot of talk about torture being "un-American," Congress is quietly keeping alive the School of the Americas, our country's infamous torture-training school". LA Weekly
- Monbiot, George (2001). "Backyard terrorism: The US has been training terrorists at a camp in Georgia for years - and it's still at it". The Guardian
- O'Neill, Patrick "SOA protesters headed for prison: Sister, students among 14 charged with trespass at Army school". National Catholic Reporter
- Priest, Dana (1996). "U.S. Instructed Latins On Executions, Torture; Manuals Used 1982-91, Pentagon Reveals". The Washington Post Section: A Pg. A01.
- Quigley, Bill "The Case for Closing the School of the Americas". BYU Journal of Public Law (20 BYU J. Pub. L. 1) 20 (1):
- Gill, Lesley. The School of the Americas - Military Training and Political Violence in the Americas. Durham: Duke University Press, 2004.
Official government websites