Monday, August 06, 2007

Congress Demands ex-School of the Americas Release Information on Graduates and Instructors

Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation is directed to release the names, ranks, courses and country of origin of graduates and instructors

WASHINGTON - AUGUST 6 - In a historical move to demand transparency, the House of Representatives approved the FY 2008 Defense Appropriations bill with an accompanying report that demands the former School of the Americas, renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (SOA/WHINSEC), release to the public the names of all students and instructors who attended the school during the fiscal years of 2005 and 2006. The directive also requires that the same information be available to the public in all future fiscal years.

The report is a victory for the School of the Americas Watch (SOA Watch), a non-profit human rights organization which has monitored the institution since 1991. “At the beginning of each fiscal year, SOA Watch has filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to obtain WHINSEC attendance information as part of our commitment to human rights monitoring. In 2006, our FOIA request for fiscal year 2005 was denied,” said Pamela Bowman, Legislative and Research Coordinator for the SOA Watch. “This report that forces WHINSEC to release the names of its graduates comes as a result of constituent pressure and the recognition by Congress that WHINSEC will not voluntarily comply with an expectation of transparency.”

The SOA/ WHINSEC is a military training facility for Latin American security personnel located at Ft. Benning, Georgia. The institution was catapulted into the headlines in 1996 when the Pentagon released training manuals used at the school that advocated torture, extortion and execution. Despite this shocking admission and hundreds of documented human rights abuses connected to soldiers trained at the school, no independent investigation into the training facility has ever taken place.

As a result of previous FOIA requests, researchers at human rights organizations were able to access SOA Watch’s 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.

Support for the School of the Americas, now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, continues to erode. In May, President Oscar Arias joined three other South American countries to send a strong message of support for human rights and military accountability by ceasing all military training of their troops at the controversial school. Citing concerns around the image of the institution in Latin America, Argentina and Uruguay announced that they would no longer send soldiers to train at the military school based at Fort Benning.

Since 1996, Congress has debated several times whether to prohibit funding for the institution. On June 21, 2007 the McGovern/Lewis amendment to the FY 2008 Foreign Appropriations bill that would have prohibited funding for the SOA/WHINSEC lost by a margin of only six votes.


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