WHINSEC "Bored" of Visitors Update Print
UPDATE: WHINSEC "Bored" of Visitors Meeting

On Tuesday, November 19, SOA Watch staff members Dominique Dgaddigo-Cash, Hendrik Voss, Maria Luisa Rosal and Rachel Reist participated in the WHINSEC Board of Visitors meeting. While the meeting was actually a conference call, the four drove down to Ft. Benning so that their voices would be heard in person before the 29, mostly all male WHINSEC personnel who also participated in the conference. As expected, the meeting, said to be open to the public and transparent, was far from it. Here's why:

First, the conference was held without the physical presence of the actual Board of Visitors, which is mandated to act as an oversight committee to WHINSEC operations. The meeting agenda included only a ten minute public comment period, and even those 10 minutes were cut short after a series of supposedly "technical difficulties", making it impossible for the public to...well...participate.

In addition to the SOA Watch staff present at the meeting, John Lindsay-Poland,  Research Director at the Fellowship of Reconciliation also participated and had comments for the Board of Visitors. John, who rightly questioned the Board regarding the human rights violations carried out by SOA graduates, citing specific examples of Colombian military personnel, as well raising concerns about the Leahy vetting process at WHINSEC, was abruptly cut off. At this point, the meeting continued, and the SOA Watch staff was called upon to address the Board. However, only Hendrik and Maria Luisa were allowed to speak, even though the 10 minute period had not ended, and, to our knowledge, no one else from the public had any additional comments.

It was shortly later that the SOAW staff was able to get in touch with John via text, only to find out that he had been cut off. When Hendrik Voss, SOA Watch National Organizer, pointed out to WHINSEC staff that John was cut off and that he had more to say, as well as the rest of the SOA Watch staff present, and that the public comment period had been cut short, the WHINSEC staff insisted that the public comment period had ended. To silence them altogether, Dominique, Hendrik, Maria Luisa and Rachel were escorted out of the building by WHINSEC personnel. In our view, this censorship brings into question the legitimacy of the Board of Visitors altogether, and in sum, can only be seen as a farce, as it is clear that WHINSEC as an institution has a complete disregard for public opinion altogether.

The SOA Watch staff present at the meeting found out only later that this part of the call was muted and the public who had called in could not even really hear what was said during this period! Moreover, we now know that John Lindsay-Poland's line was muted so that neither the Board of Visitor's nor the participants present in the room at WHINSEC could hear him. The only ones who could hear John was the public. According to John, he was instructed to keep talking, only to realize afterwards that he had been cut off as the State Department representative talked over him.

This all goes to say that the Board not only lacks legitimacy and transparency, but the way in which the meeting was carried out only demonstrates that there is an obvious limitation for public access, as we were denied the possibility to participate and have our voices heard. Lastly, the way in which the meeting was carried out, and the way in which the public was, for all intents and purposes, shut out of the meeting, contradicts the very legislation established for the Board Visitors, under the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), which requires that the "forum selected is sufficient to accommodate...a reasonable number of interested members of the public", and that "any member of the public may speak to or otherwise address the advisory committee if the agency's guidelines so permit".