The School of the Americas (SOA) is a combat training school for Latin American soldiers, located at Fort Benning, Georgia. In 2001 it was renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC). Since 1946, the SOA has trained over 64,000 Latin American soldiers in counterinsurgency techniques, sniper training, commando and psychological warfare, military intelligence and interrogation tactics. These graduates have consistently used their skills to wage wars in their own countries against their own populations. Among those targeted by SOA graduates are educators, union organizers, religious workers, student leaders, and others who work for the rights of the poor. Hundreds of thousands of Latin Americans have been tortured, raped, assassinated, “disappeared,” massacred, and forced into refugee status by those trained at the facility. Under Department of Defense jurisdiction, this school is funded by U.S. taxpayer money, all of the training is conducted in Spanish, and most of the classes are taught by Latin American instructors. According to the SOA itself, more than 60,000 members of different Latin American military groups have attended the SOA since its inception in 1946.
SOA/ WHINSEC graduates have included some of the worst and most notorious human rights abusers in Latin American history. No matter which name is referenced, the SOA or WHINSEC, the school is synonymous with torture and impunity. SOA graduates have led military coups and are responsible for massacres of hundreds of people. Some of the most notorious graduates of this training facility are dictators Manuel Noriega and Omar Torrijos of Panama, Leopoldo Galtieri and Roberto Viola of Argentina, Juan Velasco Alvarado of Peru, Guillermo Rodriguez of Ecuador and Hugo Banzar Suarez of Bolivia. SOA graduates were responsible for the Uraba massacre in Colombia, the El Mozote massacre of 900 civilians in El Salvador, the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero and the massacre of 14-year-old Celina Ramos, her mother Elba Ramos and six Jesuit priests in El Salvador and hundreds of other human rights abuses. Graduates are also suspected in the murder of Archbishop Gerardi in Guatemala City in 1998.
U.S. Army intelligence manuals used to train Latin American military officers at an Army school from 1982 to 1991 advocated executions, torture, blackmail and other forms of coercion against insurgents, Pentagon documents now released show. Used in courses at the SOA, the manual says that to recruit and control informants, counterintelligence agents could use “fear, payment of bounties for enemy dead, beatings, false imprisonment, executions and the use of truth serum,” according to a secret Defense Department summary of the manuals compiled during a 1992 investigation of the instructional material and also released recently.
Closing the school would send a strong human rights message to Latin America and the world. The advancement and protection of human rights around the world is an integral part of U.S. foreign policy. Supporting this school and allowing it to train soldiers in techniques that have been proven to be used in civilian massacres sends a terrible and conflicting message to Latin America and to the world. There may have been a time and place for U.S. involvement in military affairs in Latin America (ie: the Cold War period). Arguably, the U.S. should never have been involved in the training of these Latin American soldiers and definitely not now. Even the slightest hint of impropriety by these soldiers should be enough for the U.S. government to state unequivocally that the human rights of civilians are of utmost concern and that the U.S. values these rights. This can really only be achieved by closing this training facility down. From a foreign policy point view there does not appear to be a vested interest on the part of the United States to continue to support these violent Latin American military units and from a moral point of view, there is no justification as well.