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Court Refuses to Release Names of Students and Instructors of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (formerly known as the School of the Americas) PDF Print E-mail
Written by Hendrik Voss   
Saturday, 01 October 2016 01:25

Pentagon Appealed to Protect Secrecy for Infamous U.S. Military Training School

San Francisco – A divided 9th Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the U.S. Department of Defense and ruled today that human rights activists do not have the right to know the names and military units of foreign security personnel and instructors attending the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), a U.S. military training school located at Fort Benning, Georgia and funded by U.S. taxpayers. In the dissenting opinion, Judge Paul Watford said "Without knowing the actual names of those allowed to attend the Institute, the public has no way of independently verifying if students are properly vetted before enrolling at the Institute, or whether after graduating they engage in human rights abuses in their home countries.  As the majority would have it, the public must simply take the government's word for it that the reform measures mandated by Congress have been effective. This fox-guarding-the-henhouse notion is, of course, completely antithetical to the FOIA's core purpose." Read the court ruling here: SOAW.org/judgment2.pdf

In 2014, Judge Phyllis J. Hamilton, of the United States Northern District Court of California, ordered the Department of Defense to release the names of the students and instructors at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (formerly known as the School of the Americas, or SOA), a U.S. military training school for Latin American soldiers that for decades has been connected to torturers, death squads and military dictators throughout the Americas. SOA Watch activists had taken the U.S. government to court over its refusal to release the information, and won. Read the previous ruling by Judge Hamilton here: SOAW.org/judgment

Today’s ruling by the 9th Circuit Court came in response to an appeal by the U.S. Department of Defense.

SOA Watch will continue to push for the release of the names of the graduates and instructors of the notorious institution, and for its closure.

SOA Watch is an independent, grassroots movement that provides citizen oversight of U.S. military training given to Latin American military and police personnel at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, formerly known as the School of Americas. Through vigils and fasts, demonstrations and nonviolent protest, as well as media, legal and legislative work, the movement works in solidarity with the people of Latin America and the Caribbean for human rights, economic justice, and democracy.

The U.S. Department of Defense has denied Freedom of Information (FOIA) requests by School of the Americas Watch for the names of WHINSEC students and instructors for the years 2004-2010. For the years 1946-2003 the names had always been released when requested. The names are the basis of the SOA Watch database and the means of citizen oversight of the record of SOA/WHINSEC graduates.

Plaintiff Theresa Cameranesi is a member of the School of the Americas Watch Council. She is also a member of the SOA Watch Legislative Working Group and is active in advocating for Congressional investigation of the human rights records of graduates of SOA and WHINSEC. As part of the SOA Watch San Francisco Research Group, she and plaintiff Judith Liteky identified students and instructors at WHINSEC who were admitted for training even though they had been charged with human rights violations.

Plaintiff Judith Liteky, who passed away last month, had been active with School of the Americas Watch since its founding in 1990 in response to the massacre in San Salvador at the University of Central America. On the night of November 16, 1989, a Salvadoran Army patrol entered the University campus and massacred six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter. Nineteen of the military officers cited for this atrocity had received training at the US Army School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia. Judith was a co-founder of School of the Americas Watch San Francisco.

Plaintiff’s Cameranesi and Liteky received the 2014 James Madison Freedom of Information Citizen Award for pressing a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the Department of Defense to win a precedent-setting ruling that the government may not withhold on national security grounds the names and military unit information of graduates and instructors at the former School of the Americas, now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.

The SOA Watch plaintiffs are being represented by attorneys Duffy Carolan and Kent Spriggs.

Duffy Carolan is a partner with the San Francisco firm Jassy Vick Carolan. Attorney Carolan has been honored by her peers as San Francisco's Lawyer of the Year in Litigation - First Amendment cases. She has also received the James Madison Freedom of Information Award, a Bay Area honor given to individuals and organizations who have made significant contributions to the advancement of freedom of expression, particularly freedom of information and open government.

Kent Spriggs is the principal in Spriggs Law Firm, Tallahassee, Florida. Attorney Spriggs has represented individuals in civil rights actions, the majority in class actions. He also works in the field of international human rights, including representing those illegally detained at Guantánamo Bay, and assisted in the analysis of U.S. money used to destabilize sovereign Latin American democracies. He has been a human rights observer in El Salvador, Honduras, Colombia, and Chile as well as Palestine and Afghanistan.

Last Updated on Sunday, 02 October 2016 00:44
Colombia on the road to peace PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sara Koopman   
Friday, 24 June 2016 23:17
Yesterday was the last day of fighting in the world's longest war.

We celebrate the signing of the official cease-fire yesterday between the Colombian government and the FARC guerillas. Colombia's internal conflict officially started in the 1960s, with roots back to the 1940s. As well as being the oldest, it has been the most fatal, with far more deaths and disappearances than any other war in the Americas. A recent report by the official Historical Memory Commission put the conflict related deaths at 220,000 - but even members of the commission considered that to be an extreme undercount because of the danger of reporting deaths. The number of people disappeared is also quite contentious, even between government agencies, but may be around 75,000.

So we celebrate that the parties have signed the cease-fire and ar
e close to signing the full peace agreement that they have been negotiating in Havana, Cuba for the past four years. Yet we mourn that this war happened in the first place and the role that the US has repeatedly played in escalating the conflict, from advising the government to form paramilitaries back in the 1960s, to flooding the country with billions of dollars in military aid, to training more than 10,000 Colombian soldiers at the School of the Americas (SOA/ WHINSEC).

Now we need to pressure the US to instead support what will be a delicate transition, and to end its policy of pushing for "military solutions"
. This will be the largest guerilla force that has ever demobilized in the Americas, and they are going to do it much faster than has ever been done before, in a context where there are still large numbers of armed paramilitaries who want to attack them. It's going to be a delicate process that will need a lot of support

We know that peace does not come overnight, and that far too many peace accords fail in the implementation phase. As we celebrate this landmark step for peace in the hemisphere, let us renew our commitment. In this post-accords period Colombians will need our solidarity more than ever!

Click here to watch the Democracy Now! segment about the signing of the Colombian cease-fire agreement.

HUGE News! Join in Today's Global Day of Action for Berta! PDF Print E-mail
Written by Hendrik Voss   
Wednesday, 15 June 2016 17:15

Your support and the efforts of thousands of others over the last few days, months, and years have paid off in a BIG way! Earlier today, H.R. 5474, the Berta Cáceres Human Rights in Honduras Act, was introduced in the House of Representatives. The bill would "suspend United States security assistance with Honduras until such time as human rights violations by Honduran security forces cease and their perpetrators are brought to justice."

We ask that you take 5 minutes today, the Global Day of Action for Justice for Berta, to email your members of Congress and ask them to co-sponsor H.R. 5474. After you have done so, you can also call your Representative to repeat the demand in real time. A short sample call script is below. If you are seeing this message after June 15, it's OK! This is just the beginning of the campaign in support of the bill and emails and phone calls will continue to send a powerful message of solidarity and accountability. But we need to act as quickly as possible to capitalize on the media attention and counteract our opponents. Please call now, a short sample call script is below.

- Call-in information and script: If you do not know your Representative's direct office number, call the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121. Ask the operator to connect you to your Representative's office directly. If you don't know who your Representative is, that is not a problem - you can give your zip code to the operator and they will connect you.

- Sample script:

"Hi, my name is [[First_Name]] and I am a constituent. I live in _____. I would like to speak with the foreign policy aide that handles Latin America for Representative _____ to discuss a new bill, HR 5474, the Berta Cáceres Human Rights In Honduras Act.

(Wait for the aide, or if they are not available, write down their name and leave a message for them)

If aide is available to speak: I am calling to ask that Representative _____ co-sponsor HR 5474, the Berta Cáceres Human Rights In Honduras Act. The bill would "suspend United States security assistance with Honduras until such time as human rights violations by Honduran security forces cease and their perpetrators are brought to justice." Have you and Representative ______ seen the bill? Will they cosponsor?

The government has squandered our tax dollars to arm and train a government that has been credibly linked to countless human rights violations and death squad activity. This needs to stop today. I will follow up with you to make sure that Representative ______ is aware of the bill and makes the correct decision to co-sponsor HR 5474.

Leaving a message: Same as above script without the questions at end of first paragraph.

Today is the Global Day of Action for Justice for Berta, and there are protests being held around the world in her honor. We hope that you are able to join in person, online, or over the phone today. H.R. 5474 is the result of years of hard work and support. We will continue to update you on the progress of the bill, as it will be a continued just struggle to get it passed. But make no mistake, this is a victory for you, a victory for all of us that want a just relationship with Honduras and the rest of the world!

In Solidarity,
SOA Watch

SOA Watch
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Last Updated on Wednesday, 15 June 2016 17:33
June 15: Global Day of Action Demanding Justice for Berta PDF Print E-mail
Written by Hendrik Voss   
Thursday, 26 May 2016 22:46

SOA Watch stands with the Civic Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras (COPINH), an Indigenous Lenca organization made up of 200 Lenca communities in Honduras. COPINH has issued a call for protests around the world on June 15, 2016, to demand justice for Berta Cáceres.

Last Updated on Sunday, 05 June 2016 22:35
4 arrested for murder of Berta Cáceres in Honduras PDF Print E-mail
Written by Brigitte Gynther   
Wednesday, 04 May 2016 15:50

On Monday morning, the Honduran authorities arrested 4 men in relation to the murder of internationally renowned activist Berta Cáceres -- 2 are retired or active members of the Honduran Armed Forces and 2 have ties to DESA, the company building the Agua Zarca hydroelectric project that Berta was campaigning against. With even the Honduran government investigators now admitting the assassins have ties to the Honduran Armed Forces, it is time once and for all for the United States to end financing and training of the Honduran security forces. Berta's family and COPINH continue to call for the Inter-American Human Rights Commission to investigate the case.  It is hard to believe that the Honduran government has the political will to investigate the higher-ups who may have helped plan or known about Berta's murder; as Berta's daughter Laura Zuniga Cáceres told The Guardian, “The Honduran state is too closely linked to the murder of my mother to carry out an independent investigation.”

Last Updated on Wednesday, 04 May 2016 15:52
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