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SOA Survives Vote in Congress PDF Print E-mail
Written by Pam Bowman and Hendrik Voss, SOA Watch   
In June 2007, the notorious School of the Americas (SOA), renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), only narrowly averted a funding cut in Congress.

CapitolIn the U.S. House of Representatives, 203 Members of Congress stood up for human rights and voted to prohibit funding for the U.S. military training camp for Latin American soldiers, but 214 caved in to Pentagon pressure and voted to continue funding its operations.

The Fort Benning-based SOA/WHINSEC gained international notoriety for its training of Latin American death squad leaders and military dictators.  Thousands throughout the Americas have been tortured and murdered by graduates of the SOA/WHINSEC.   

In 1996, the Pentagon was forced to release School of the Americas training manuals, used at the school for at least a decade, that advocated the use of torture, execution and blackmail.  Despite this admission, no one has ever been held accountable for the use of these manuals.  No independent investigation has ever taken place.

The public outcry and the results of grassroots research tracing hundreds of SOA graduates to the most high profile massacres in Latin America prompted Congress to move for its closure.  A similar amendment to prohibit funding for the school passed the House of Representatives and lost by one vote in conference committee.  At the next attempt that surely would have passed, the Pentagon reacted with a public relations ploy. In 2001, the School of the Americas was renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC).  Operations at the school continued in the same buildings, with the same instructors and with the same mission and mindset.

Since 2001, SOA Watch and its partner organizations have shed a blinding spotlight on the school, demonstrating to many that changing the name of a school does not wipe away its bloody history.  Research uncovered multiple cases of known human rights abusers being rewarded with U.S. military training at WHINSEC. Despite WHINSEC’s attempts to discredit human rights advocates in Latin America and to dispute the cases by circulating false information, the truth prevailed on the floor of the House of Representatives in June 2007 when documented evidence proved the case to close the SOA/WHINSEC.

Researchers around the world continued to make the connections between the school and human rights violations, until last year, when the Pentagon abruptly refused to release the names of the graduates of the school.  After waiting over nine months from the date of filing a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the students from 2005, SOA Watch’s request was officially denied. Rep. James McGovernIn June of 2007, during a speech on the floor of the House, Representative James McGovern (D-MA) held up the pages and pages of blacked out graduate names from the FOIA denial, and Members of Congress expressed their outrage.  Although the vote that day to prohibit funding for the school failed by a margin of six votes, Congress responded.

After WHINSEC and the Pentagon refused to release the graduate names, Congress demanded that they release the names in report language accompanying the FY 2008 Defense Appropriations bill.  The language directs WHINSEC to release the full name, rank, country of origin, and dates attended for each student in FY 2005 and 2006. For every year after that, WHINSEC has 60 days to release the names to the public at the close of that fiscal year.  This demand represents an incredible victory for SOA Watch and for all of those advocating for human rights, accountability and transparency.  

The Congressional directive to WHINSEC to release the names of its graduates is a victory and a steppingstone in SOA Watch’s legislative campaign to close this notorious school.  Representative McGovern is the sponsor of a  widely supported, bipartisan bill in the House, HR 1707, which would suspend operations at the SOA/ WHINSEC, investigate the use of torture manuals and human rights abuses associated with the school, and provide an overall assessment of foreign military training.  The legislation has over 110 bipartisan cosponsors.

Visit www.SOAW.org/legislative for more information on the legislative campaign, or contact SOA Watch Legislative Coordinator Pam Bowman at (202) 234-3440

 

Published in the Fall 2007 issue  

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Download the Spring 2016 issue of Presente

The Spring issue contains mobilizing information for the SOA Watch Border Convergence, which is taking place from October 7-10, 2016 at the US/Mexico border in Nogales, and also focuses on recent developments in Latin America and within the SOA Watch movement.

Click here to download a PDF version of the Spring 2016 issue.

As this issue of Presente went to print, our hearts were heavy. The assassination of our dear friend and comrade Berta Cáceres, and the increased repression against social movement groups, have left us shocked and saddened. SOA Watch Latin America liaison Brigitte Gynther traveled to Honduras the morning after she learned about the assassination and has been coordinating SOA Watch’s response together with our partner groups on the ground. If you do not already receive Urgent Action emails from us, please click here to sign up now.

The recent decision by the U.S. judge in North Carolina to extradite one of the perpetrators of the 1989 massacre at the University of San Salvador gives us hope that justice will prevail in the end. It will take all of us to create change! Please join us as we mobilize to the U.S./Mexico border from October 7-10, 2016!

Other articles in this issue cover a protest by SOA Watch in Chile against US bases in Latin America, the FBI surveillance of SOA Watch, updates from Colombia and Mexico, news about the first Border Patrol agent to receive training at WHINSEC, background information about Direct Action, the Youth Encuentro in Guatemala, and more.

Download this issue of Presente here.

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