SOA Watch FOIA Request Denied by the Pentagon Print
Washington, DC ? The culture of secrecy surrounding the current presidential administration persisted this month when the Pentagon denied School of the Americas Watch?s Freedom of Information Act request to obtain the name, rank, country of origin, and dates of students in attendance at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (formerly known as the U.S. Army School of the Americas). Despite 20-day reporting requirements, it took the Pentagon nine months to deny the request.

The Freedom of Information Act was enacted by Congress and signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1966. The FOIA was the first U.S. law to give Americans the right to access the records of federal agencies that are funded with their tax dollars.

At the beginning of each fiscal year for the past several years, SOA Watch has filed a FOIA request with the U.S. government to obtain WHINSEC attendance information as part of our commitment to human rights monitoring. Continuing the policies of the U.S. Army School of the Americas (SOA), WHINSEC refuses to participate in any follow-up after students attend the military training facility, choosing to ignore the connections between student?s actions and their training at the school.

As a result of previous FOIA requests, researchers at human rights organizations are able to access our extensive graduate database to inform Congress, media outlets, and the public about the numerous instances of SOA/ WHINSEC graduates and instructors who have been implicated and convicted of human rights atrocities in Latin America. For example, researchers from SOA Watch matched the name of Colonel Francisco del Cid Diaz - commander of a unit that forcibly removed, beat and shot 16 residents from the ?Las Hojas? community in El Salvador - with his attendance at the SOA in 1988 and 1991, and at WHINSEC in 2003. This high profile massacre was cited in the annual U.S. State Department Human Rights Country Reports, and the OAS Inter-American Commission on Human Rights recommended that the Salvadoran government bring him to justice based on substantial evidence that del Cid Diaz gave the orders to execute the civilians. Despite this condemnation, del Cid Diaz was invited back to the school in 2003, subverting laws in place to prevent rewarding known human rights abusers with U.S taxpayer-funded military training.

Because of this instance and hundreds of others that make the numerous connections between the SOA/ WHINSEC and human rights atrocities throughout Latin America, the SOA/ WHINSEC and the Department of Defense continue to disrupt the efforts of human rights organizations to advocate for transparency and accountability for international crimes.

By refusing to grant FOIA requests regarding the basic statistics of the WHINSEC student population, WHINSEC and the Department of Defense will continue to admit known human rights abusers such as Colonel del Cid Diaz without any oversight or criticism of the screening process by human rights organizations. The culture of secrecy will continue to deepen.