Human Rights Implications of SOA/WHINSEC Training Print
To: Representative__________________
CC: Foreign Policy Aide
From: School of the Americas (SOA) Watch

Important New Findings on Human Rights Implications of SOA/WHINSEC Training

In 1999, as a result of growing constituent pressure and press revelations regarding the use of so-called "torture training manuals," the House of Representatives voted 230?197 to close the U.S. Army School of the Americas (SOA), which brings select members of Latin American militaries to Fort Benning, Georgia for special military training. In response to this vote, the Department of Defense (DoD) mounted a counter-campaign and convinced Congress that the SOA, which it had previously argued needed no reform; would indeed be reformed including human rights and democracy training in its program. On January 17, 2001, the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (known by its acronyms of WHISC or WHINSEC) opened, in the exact same facility and with virtually the same curriculum as the SOA.

Concerns by national and local religious, veteran, and human rights organizations regarding the nature of the WHINSEC training Latin American military personnel receive, and how they act upon resumption of their military duties in their home nations, have not abated since the school changed its name. Recent research undertaken by academic and human rights organizations reveal in increasing detail that reputed reforms implemented at the WHINSEC remain cosmetic at best; and at worst, continue the long pattern of support for human rights abusers in Latin America. These findings are presented along with key points in the Dear Colleague letter by Rep. McGovern, inviting Members of Congress to join him in co-sponsoring HR 1258, which calls for the suspension of the SOA/WHINSEC and the investigation of training needs in Latin America.

Point 1 - "None of the fundamental issues raised around the need to close the SOA has been addressed in the renamed WHISC [sic] - not its training methods, nor its lack of oversight, nor the school's record of graduating human rights abusers."

A 1995 Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) acknowledged ?that negative publicity about the School would probably continue and that a new name for the School may be an appropriate way to break with the past.? The Army's response to increasing pressure from the grassroots and Congress to close the SOA, was to view the serious concerns about it as a ?public relations? matter and to paper over the problem. In doing so, the Army has been able to keep the SOA open under a new name, never being accountable for the first 50 years when over 60,000 soldiers were trained at the School and an unknown number of human rights violations were perpetrated by these graduates when they returned to their home nations. For this reason it is important to establish a joint congressional task force to assess training provided to military personnel of Latin American nations (as called for in HR 1258).

Point 2 - "The failure of the U.S. Army to deal seriously with the record of the SOA, the most intensely scrutinized aspect of US military training in Latin America, raises questions about the quality and emphasis in the vast array of other training programs."

A recent statistical analysis produced at the University of Wisconsin-Madison [1] sheds new light on this contention. Using a sample of 11,797 graduates from six Latin American countries [2] who attended the SOA from 1960-2000, the study analyzed the likelihood that graduates would commit human rights violations given different variables; with a focus on the number of times students attended the school and student rank. The study found that:

? The more courses a student took at the SOA, the more likely they were to perpetrate human rights violations.
Even after accounting for certain variables (like type of training received and the situation in the home countries), students who took two or more classes at the SOA have nearly four times the abuse rate of those students who only attended once.

? Students who attended the SOA as officers were almost four times more likely to commit abuses than those who attended as enlisted.
This finding is significant given Army and DoD assertions that human rights violations result from a lack of adequate, professional training.

? The SOA?s human rights record does not appear to improve over time.
This means that neither the end of the Cold War, nor the reforms to the school?s curriculum (such as the disuse of certain training manuals or the addition of courses in Human Rights) appears to have had success in curbing the abuses of graduates. Given the fact that past reforms do not appear to have been effective, the question naturally arises of how effective current reforms are in curbing similar abuses.

This presents a complication for the Army?s assertion that human rights abusers are only a few ?bad apples? in a given graduating class. Far from a random assortment of graduates, the numbers show that the SOA graduates most likely to commit crimes are precisely the students who have had the most SOA training. This makes it difficult to assert that violence results from a lack of training and that more SOA-style training will inevitably result in better human rights outcomes. Indeed, the more SOA training soldiers get, the more abusive they are towards their own people. Results such as these further accentuate the need for a full evaluation of the effectiveness of all foreign security training in Latin America.

Point 3 - "Human rights abuses and the problems with civil-military relations are not, unfortunately, a thing of the past in Latin America."

The WHINSEC claims that their applicants must undergo a stringent five-step vetting process. In practice, however, the screening process for applicants to the WHINSEC is seriously flawed. There are a number of students with well-documented prior histories of human rights abuses in their home countries subsequently studying at the WHINSEC, including the following:

? From El Salvador: In 1983, Colonel Francisco del Cid Diaz (then a 2nd Lieutenant) commanded a unit that forcibly removed 16 residents from the Las Hojas cooperative of the Asociaci?n Nacional de Ind?genas, bound and beat them, shot all 16 at point-blank range and threw their bodies in the Cuyuapa River. This is a very well known, very high profile and notorious massacre, and is cited in the annual State Department Human Rights Country Reports throughout the 1980s. The case was also investigated by, and included in the final report of, the El Salvador Truth Commission established under the Salvadoran Peace Accords. The El Salvador Supreme Court granted amnesty to all defendants, but in 1993 the Report of the UN Truth Commission on El Salvador stated that Col. del Cid Diaz and the other ranking officer present gave the orders to execute [3], and recommended that the Salvadoran government bring them to justice. Instead of facing justice, we find that Col. del Cid Diaz was at the WHINSEC in 2003. He was also enrolled at the SOA in 1988 and 1991.

?From Bolivia: In 1997 Captain Filmann Urzagaste Rodriguez was one of those responsible for the kidnapping and torture of Waldo Albarracin, then the director of the Popular Assembly for Human Rights in Bolivia and now the Human Rights Defender (Ombudsman). In 1999 the Bolivian Chamber of
Deputies Commission in charge of investigating the case passed it, together with all the evidence, to the ordinary courts for investigation and prosecution. The case was also the subject of a well-known petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (that has not yet been acted upon). In 2002, Urzagaste Rodriguez, now a Major, took the premier 49-week Command and General Staff course at the WHINSEC.

?From Colombia: Three Colombian police officers under investigation for personal use of counter-narcotics funds took courses at the WHINSEC at nearly the same time as the investigation. In June 2002 the Colombian Attorney General's office, at the request of the U.S. Government, opened a "disciplinary" investigation into alleged activities of corruption by members of the Colombian National Police, including Captain Dario Sierro Chapeta, Lt. Col. Francisco Patino Fonseca, and Captain Luis Benavides Guancha. In 2002, Sierro Chapeta took the Intelligence Officer Course and Patino Fonseca took the premier Command and General Staff Course. Benavides Guancha was at the WHINSEC for 18 weeks in 2003 taking the Captains Career Course. (It is yet to be determined if the charges against the three were brought before, during or after acceptance at the WHINSEC.)

The fact that students with known human rights violations and problems of corruption are attending an institution that boasts about the ?meticulous screening process? that all students pass to ensure they are ?law-abiding citizens[4]? undermines the claim that the WHINSEC "teaches" respect for human rights. To the contrary, these cases can be interpreted as the WHINSEC, or more seriously, the U.S. military rewarding human rights violators with the honor of studying in the United States.

In conclusion, I urge you to join over 110 bi-partisan Members of Congress and co-sponsor and work towards the passage of HR 1217. If you would like to discuss this issue further, please contact Pam Bowman at SOA Watch, 202-234-3440, pbowman(at)

McCoy, Katherine E. ?Trained To Torture: A Statistical Analysis of Human Rights Violations Committed by Graduates of the U.S. Army School of the Americas, 1960-2000.? University of Wisconsin-Madison, 2003.
Argentina, Brazil, El Salvador, Guatemala, Panama and Peru.
Statements in preceding quotation marks made by Army Legislative Liaison LTC Jack Einwechter at a WHINSEC briefing to House Members and staff on March 17, 2004.