School of the americas

Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation
Official seal of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation
Motto Libertad, Paz y Fraternidad (Freedom, Peace, and Fraternity)
Established 1946 (as Escuela de las Americas), as WHINSEC 2000/2001
Commandant Colonel Glenn R. Huber Jr.
Budget $14M as of FY2010
Members 215
Owner United States Department of Defense

Fort Benning, Georgia, United States

 (32°21′54.1″N 84°57′21.25″W / 32.365028°N 84.9559028°W / 32.365028; -84.9559028)
Address 7161 Richardson Circle

The Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), formerly known as[1][2] the US Army School of the Americas, is a United States Department of Defense Institute located at Fort Benning near Columbus, Georgia, that provides military training to government personnel of Latin American countries.

The school was founded in 1946 and from 1961 was assigned the specific goal of teaching "anti-communist counterinsurgency training," a role which it would fulfill for the rest of the Cold War.[3] In this period, it educated several Latin American dictators, generations of their military and, during the 1980s, included the uses of torture in its curriculum.[4][5] In 2000/2001, the institute was renamed to WHINSEC.[6][7]:233


The US Army School of the Americas was founded in 1946. From 1961 (during the Kennedy administration), the School was assigned the specific Cold War goal of teaching "anti-communist" counterinsurgency training to military personnel of Latin American countries.[3] At the time and in those places, "communists" was, in the words of anthropologist Lesley Gill, "... an enormously elastic category that could accommodate almost any critic of the status quo."[7]:10

During this period, Colombia supplied the largest number of students from any client country.[7]:17 As the Cold War drew to a close around 1990, United States foreign policy shifted focus from "anti-communism" to the War on Drugs, with narcoguerillas replacing "communists".[7]:10 This term was later replaced by "the more ominous sounding 'terrorist'".[7]:10

In 1999, the School of the Americas website said, "Liberation Theology — in Latin America ... was defeated with the assistance of the U.S. Army."[3]


By 2000 the School of the Americas was under increasing criticism in the United States for training students who later participated in undemocratic governments and committed human rights abuses. In 2000 Congress, through the FY01 National Defense Act, withdrew the Secretary of the Army's authority to operate USARSA.[8]

The next year, WHINSEC was founded as a successor institute. U.S. Army Maj. Joseph Blair, a former director of instruction at the school, said in 2002 that "there are no substantive changes besides the name. [...] They teach the identical courses that I taught and changed the course names and use the same manuals."[1]

But in 2013 researcher Ruth Blakeley concluded after interviews with WHINSEC personnel and anti-SOA/WHINSEC protesters that "there was considerable transparency [...] established after the transition from SOA to WHINSEC" and that "a much more rigorous human rights training program was in place than in any other US military institution".[9]


In 2004, Venezuela ceased all training of its soldiers at WHINSEC[10] after a long period of chilling relations between the United States and Venezuela. On March 28, 2006, the government of Argentina, headed by President Néstor Kirchner, decided to stop sending soldiers to train at WHINSEC, and the government of Uruguay affirmed that it would continue its current policy of not sending soldiers to WHINSEC.[11][12]

In 2007, Óscar Arias, president of Costa Rica, decided to stop sending Costa Rican police to the WHINSEC, although he later reneged, saying the training would be beneficial for counter-narcotics operations. Costa Rica has no military but has sent some 2,600 police officers to the school.[13] Bolivian President Evo Morales formally announced on February 18, 2008, that he would not send Bolivian military or police officers to WHINSEC.[14] In 2012, President Rafael Correa announced that Ecuador would withdraw all their troops from the military school at Ft. Benning, citing links to human rights violations.[15]

In 2005 a bill to abolish the institute, with 134 cosponsors, was introduced to the House Armed Services Committee.[16] In June 2007, the McGovern/Lewis Amendment to shut off funding for the Institute failed by six votes.[17] This effort to close the Institute was endorsed by the nonpartisan Council on Hemispheric Affairs, which described the Institute as a "black eye" for America.[18]

Current organization


Authorized by the United States Congress through 10 USC 2166 in 2001,[19] WHINSEC "provides professional education and training to eligible personnel of nations of the Western Hemisphere within the context of the democratic principles set forth in the Charter of the Organization of American States[20] (such charter being a treaty to which the United States is a party), while fostering mutual knowledge, transparency, confidence, and cooperation among the participating nations and promoting democratic values, respect for human rights, and knowledge and understanding of United States customs and traditions.[21] Throughout the decade since its establishment, WHINSEC has provided training for more than 13,000 US and international students. Its educational format incorporates guest lecturers and experts from sectors of US and international government, non-government, human rights, law enforcement, academic institutions, and interagency departments[22] to share best practices in pursuit of improved security cooperation between all nations of the Western Hemisphere.


In 10 USC 2166, Congress establishes an independent review board (a federal advisory committee) to "inquire into the curriculum, instruction, physical equipment, fiscal affairs, and academic methods of the Institute, other matters relating to the Institute that the Board decides to consider, and any other matter that the Secretary of Defense determines appropriate".[23] The "Board of Visitors" (BoV), as this committee is named, is responsible for reviewing the curriculum of WHINSEC to "determine whether the curriculum complies with applicable United States laws and regulations; is consistent with United States policy goals toward Latin America and the Caribbean; adheres to current United States doctrine; and appropriately emphasizes the matters specified in subsection (d)(1): "The curriculum of the Institute shall include mandatory instruction for each student, for at least 8 hours, on human rights, the rule of law, due process, civilian control of the military, and the role of the military in a democratic society." The Board must also submit an annual report to the Secretary of Defense on its findings and recommendations related to its review of the institute. Copies of their reports are posted on the Federal Advisory Committee website.[24]

The fourteen-member BoV currently includes these people:

  • Senator Carl Levin (Senate Armed Services Committee majority, D-MI)
  • Senator Saxby Chambliss (Senate Armed Services Committee minority, R-GA)
  • Rep. Phil Gingrey (House Armed Services Committee majority, R-GA)
  • Rep. Loretta Sanchez (House Armed Services Committee minority, D-CA)
  • GEN John F. Kelly (United States Southern Command)[25]
  • GEN Charles H. Jacoby (United States Northern Command) [26]

It also has six members designated by the Secretary of Defense from the community at large. These six members include representatives from the human rights, religious, academic, and business communities. Members of the Board are not compensated for service on the Board. A full listing of the BoV members can be found on the Federal Advisory Committee website[24] and the WHINSEC public website.[27] The BoV annual meeting is open to the public, and meeting dates are posted in advance on the Federal Register.[28]

Criticism of WHINSEC

Human rights violations by graduates

WHINSEC has been criticized for human rights violations performed by former students of its predecessor, the School of the Americas.[1][29][30]

According to the Center for International Policy, "The School of the Americas had been questioned for years, as it trained many military personnel before and during the years of the 'national security doctrine' – the dirty war years in the Southern Cone and the civil war years in Central America – in which the armed forces within several Latin American countries ruled or had disproportionate government influence and committed serious human rights violations in those countries." SOA and WHINSEC graduates continue to surface in news reports regarding both current human rights cases and new reports.

Defenders argue that today the curriculum includes human rights,[31] but according to Human Rights Watch, "training alone, even when it includes human rights instruction, does not prevent human rights abuses."[29]

On the lessons taught at the School, former SoA direction of instruction Maj. Joseph Blair said, "The doctrine that was taught was that if you want information you use physical abuse, you use false imprisonment, you use threats to family members, you use virtually any method necessary to get what you want... [including torture] and killing. If there's someone you don't want you kill them. If you can't get the information you want, if you can't get that person to shut up or to stop what they're doing you simply assassinate them, and you assassinate them with one of your death squads."[32]

"Sources at the [US Army School of the Americas] say that when Honduran and Colombian soldiers go through the urban-combat exercise with blanks in their weapons, half the time the village priest (played by a US Army chaplain) is killed or roughed up," Newsweek reported.[33]

On September 20, 1996, the Pentagon was forced to release training manuals that were used at the US Army School of the Americas and distributed to thousands of military officers from eleven South and Central American countries, including Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and Panama, where the US military was heavily involved in counterinsurgency. These manuals advocated targeting civilians, extrajudicial executions, torture, false imprisonment, and extortion.[34][35][36]

In "Teaching Human Rights Violations", a Washington Post editorial commented on its report, "US instructed Latins on Executions, Torture", "The US Army advocacy of terror methods reaches far beyond the question of whether or not the US Army School of the Americas ought to be shut down {"Army Instructed Latins on Executions, Torture", front page, Sept. 21}. It has to do with US complicity in human rights crimes."[5]

In "School of the Dictators", the editors of The New York Times commented, "Americans can now read for themselves some of the noxious lessons the United States Army taught to thousands of Latin American military and police officers at the School of the Americas during the 1980s. A training manual recently released by the Pentagon recommended interrogation techniques like torture, execution, blackmail and arresting the relatives of those being questioned. Such practices, which some of the school's graduates enthusiastically applied once they returned home, violate basic human rights and the Army's own rules of procedure. They also defy the professed goals of American foreign policy and foreign military training programs."[4]

WHINSEC has said "that no school should be held accountable for the actions of its graduates."[31]

SOA Watch

Since 1990, Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit human rights organization School of the Americas Watch has worked to monitor graduates of the institution and to close the former SOA, now WHINSEC, through legislative action, grassroots organizing and nonviolent direct action.[37] It maintains a database with graduates of both the SOA and WHINSEC who have been accused of human rights violations and other criminal activity.[38] In regard to the renaming of the institution, SOA Watch claims that the approach taken by the Department of Defense is not grounded in any critical assessment of the training, procedures, performance, or results (consequences) of the training programs of the SOA. According to critics of the SOA, the name change ignores congressional concern and public outcry over the SOA's past and present link to human rights atrocities.[39]

Protests and public demonstrations

Since 1990, SOA Watch has sponsored an annual public demonstration of protest of SOA/WHINSEC at Ft. Benning. In 2005, the demonstration drew 19,000 people. The protests are timed to coincide with the anniversary of the assassination of six Jesuit priests in El Salvador on November 1989 by graduates of the School of the Americas.[40] On November 16, 1989, six Jesuit priests (Ignacio Ellacuria, Segundo Montes, Ignacio Martin-Baro, Joaquin López y López, Juan Ramon Moreno, and Amado López); their housekeeper, Elba Ramos; and her daughter, Celia Marisela Ramos, were murdered by the Salvadoran Military on the campus of the University of Central America in San Salvador, El Salvador, because they had been labeled as subversives by the government.[41] A United Nations panel concluded that nineteen of the 27 killers were SOA graduates.[42]

Graduates of the School of the Americas

"The U.S. Army School of the Americas is a school that has run more dictators than any other school in the history of the world."

A number of graduates of the SOA and WHINSEC have been accused of human rights violations and criminal activity in their home countries.[44] In August 2007, according to an Associated Press report, Colonel Alberto Quijano of the Colombian army's Special Forces was arrested for providing security and mobilizing troops for Diego León Montoya Sánchez (aka "Don Diego"), the leader of the Norte del Valle Cartel and one of the FBI's 10 most-wanted criminals. School of the Americas Watch said in a statement that it matched the names of those in the scandal with its database of attendees at the institute. Alberto Quijano attended courses and was an instructor who taught classes on peacekeeping operations and democratic sustainment at the school from 2003 to 2004.[45]
Others former students include members of the Atlacatl Battalion, responsible for the El Mozote massacre, and Franck Romain, former leader of the Tonton Macoute, responsible for the St Jean Bosco massacre.[46]

Critics of SOA Watch argue the connection is often misleading. According to Paul Mulshine, Roberto D'Aubuisson's sole link to the SOA is that he had taken a course in radio operations long before El Salvador's civil war began.[47]

Educated according to other sources

In 1992 the OAS Inter-American Commission on Human Rights recommended prosecution of Col. Cid Díaz for murder in association with the 1983 Las Hojas massacre. His name is on a State Department list of gross human rights abusers. Díaz went to the Institute in 2003.[6][50]

Media representation


Further reading

  • Ruth Blakeley (2006).
  • Review, "Highlights parallels in the practices of U.S. government operatives and their local 'assets' in the current conflict and in the civil wars that wracked Central America in the 1980s and early 1990s."
  • Internet Movie Database

See also

External links

Official government websites

Other websites

Media and documentaries

  • Democracy Now! (retrieved November 20, 2010)
  • – Spanish and English (retrieved November 20, 2010)
  • School of the Americas Assassins, a 1994 short documentary film produced by Robert Richter. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Short.
  • – Feature-length documentary that looks at the nature of U.S. policy in Latin America through the prism of the School of the Americas, the controversial military school that trains Latin American soldiers in the United States'
  • Truth Commissions: Reports: El Salvador – The Hague Justice Portal (retrieved November 20, 2010)
  • Vigil at School of the Americas
  • The short film ]
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