SOA Watch takes the U.S. government to court
The School of the Americas Watch movement has compiled a list of names of all graduates and instructors who attended the School of the Americas (SOA) since its opening in 1946. Through our grassroots outreach, direct actions at the SOA and work in Congress, the public learned that many Latin American human rights violators received their training at the SOA (see SOA Watch's database of graduates and instructors from 1946-2004). In 1996, the infamous "torture manuals" used at the SOA were declassified and shed light the true character of US foreign policy in Latin America.
In 1999, the House of Representatives voted 230-197 to close down the school, though the school was not closed. The 1999 vote was taken by the Pentagon to be a warning shot and they backtracked, saying that the SOA could be reformed. In 2000, to avoid a second vote, the Department of Defense introduced their own project in the Defense Authorization bill, which closed down the SOA but opened the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) in the same building on January 17, 2001. The SOA Watch movement's analysis was that it was the same school, in the same place, with basically the same curriculum.
Despite the US Government's claims that a new vetting process had been installed for instructors at the SOA/WHINSEC post-2001, grassroots investigations found that students and instructors who had been implicated and investigated for human rights violations and other crimes were studying or training at the SOA/WHINSEC up until 2003. You can read a full analysis of WHINSEC here.
As a response to these investigations, the US Government decided to discontinue releasing the names of graduates and instructors, exposing the hypocrisy of the SOA/WHINSEC's stated mission of fostering "transparency" and promoting "democratic values" in the Americas. While claiming that WHINSEC is the most transparent institute, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests since FY 2005 have all been denied, proof of WHINSEC's unwillingness to submit to oversight from the public whose tax-payer dollars fund the school.
The human rights community and the U.S. Congress were outraged by the secrecy around the SOA/WHINSEC. In 2008 and again in 2009, the House of Representatives passed an amendment to the Defense Authorization bill demanding that the DOD release the names to the public. In 2010, this measure was signed into law by President Obama, However, SOA/WHINSEC supporters in Congress managed to slip in the caveat that the Secretary of Defense could issue a waiver to ignore the public's right to know and refuse to release the information, if he "determines it to be in the national interest."
Predictably, the Defense Secretary has used the waiver to deny human rights organizations and the public access to any more information.
In a recent letter to President Obama, 69 members of Congress said that the "rejection of public accountability and transparency is a reflection of the overall values and attitudes of the Defense Department and the WHINSEC regarding public debate about the merits of the school."
In recent years and months, SOA grads are popping up across the region. Six Honduran generals were linked to the 2009 coup in that country, and four of them were trained at the SOA. Last year, in 2010, the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) and the U.S. Office on Colombia (USOC) released their groundbreaking report, Military Assistance and Human Rights: Colombia, U.S. Accountability, and Global Implications, which exposes serious problems with the implementation of U.S. foreign military training. According to the report, 30 of 33 Colombian brigade and division commanders who could be identified attended one or more courses at the SOA/ WHINSEC, and the research shows a direct connection between the SOA-trained officers and high levels of extrajudicial executions.
Similarly, in Peru, research showed that 7 officials involved in the 1985 Accomarca massacre were trained at the SOA. In July, 2011, an arrested leader of the Zetas drug cartel in Mexico claimed to have recruited Mexican troops trained at Fort Benning. (The Mexican Secretary of Defense has said that at least one third of the original members of the Zetas drug cartel were ex-members of the Mexican special forces trained at the SOA.)
SOA grads are again on the offensive in the Americas. Otto Perez Molina in Guatemala won that country's presidential elections on November 6, 2011, and in Honduras, "Coup General" Romeo Vásquez Velásquez has announced his plan to run for president in 2013. In El Salvador, President Mauricio Funes named retired General David Munguía Payés, also an SOA graduate, as the country's new Minister of Public Security and Justice on November 23, 2011. The legacy of the SOA/WHINSEC continues to ravage the Americas.
The research that grassroots investigators and the SOA Watch movement have done only reveals the tip of the iceberg of US militarization of the Americas. In November of 2011, SOA Watch's allies in Congress introduced House Bill 3368, which calls for the suspension of operations at SOA/WHINSEC, an investigation into the torture manuals and human rights abuses associated with the school, and an assessment of military training in Latin America. (Send a message to your Congress member, urging them to support HR 3368)
In February of 2012, SOA Watch will take the US Government to court over its refusal to hand over the names of students and instructors at the SOA/WHINSEC. This is one more strategy to expose the myth of "benevolent" US foreign policy and end US militarization in the hemisphere. We will not stop until they do!
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