|Motto||Libertad, Paz y Fraternidad (Freedom, Peace, and Fraternity)|
|Established||1946 (as Escuela de las Americas), as WHINSEC 2000/2001|
|Commandant||Colonel Robert F. Alvaro|
|Budget||$11.2M As of 2018|
|Owner||United States Department of Defense|
|Address||7301 Baltzell Ave, Bradley Hall, Bldg 396, Fort Benning, GA 31905|
The Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) is a United States Department of Defense Institute located at Fort Benning near Columbus, Georgia, created in the 2001 National Defense Authorization Act. It was formerly known as the US Army School of the Americas.
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The U.S. Army School of the Americas (SOA) was founded in 1946 and originally located at Fort Gulick in the Panama Canal Zone. The School aimed to instruct the armed forces of Latin America using training programs that were doctrinally sound and compatible with United States customs and traditions in a cost effective and militaristically professional way. 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. At the time and in those places, the label "communist" was, in the words of anthropologist Lesley Gill, "...an enormously elastic category that could accommodate almost any critic of the status quo.":10 During this period, Colombia supplied the largest number of students from any client country.:17
On September 21, 1984, the school was expelled from Panama under the terms of the Panama Canal Treaty. Prior to this expulsion, politicians and journalists in Panama had complained that civilian graduates from the school engaged in repressive and antidemocratic behavior. In December of that year, the school reopened at Fort Benning, Georgia, as part of the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command. Spanish was the official language of the school and although human rights training was a part of the program, many questioned the effectiveness of this curriculum. In 1989 the School set in place a requirement that a basic, sufficient block of human rights instruction would be 8 hours long. Further international curriculum on human rights was included in the instruction, as were warnings about the penalties of human rights abuses. Despite this required instruction, the School still utilized material from Spanish language training manuals that discussed methods of coercion against insurgents through execution and torture from 1982 until 1991. The Department of Defense released excerpts of these manuals in September 1996, prompting further criticism of and controversy surrounding the School.
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".:10 This term was later replaced by "the more ominous sounding 'terrorist'".:10 Now, all elements of the School of the Americas are located at Fort Benning with the exception of the Helicopter School Battalion which is located at Fort Rucker, Alabama.
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, the US Congress, through the FY01 National Defense Act, withdrew the Secretary of the Army's authority to operate USARSA.
The next year, the institute was renamed to WHINSEC. 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."
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".
However, the first WHINSEC Director, Richard Downie, became the controversial director of the Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies (CHDS), the educational institution of both the U.S. Northern and U.S. Southern Commands (SOUTHCOM), at the National Defense University in Washington, DC from March 2004-March, 2013. During Downie's tenure at CHDS, the institution faced controversy over its continued employment of a former military officer from Chile, who was later indicted by a civilian court for his alleged participation in torture and murder and who was defended by Downie. In addition, The Intercept reported that Honduran plotters in the illegal 2009 military coup received "behind-the-scenes assistance" from CHDS officials working for Downie. The detailed August 2017 article noted that Cresencio Arcos, a former U.S. ambassador to Honduras who was working at the Center at the time the coup occurred, received an angry call from a Congressional staffer who had met with the Honduran colonels who were meeting with Members of Congress in Washington. The colonels purportedly told the staffer they had the center's support. Arcos confronted Downie and Center Deputy Director Ken LaPlante, telling them, "We cannot have this sort of thing happening, where we're supporting coups." LaPlante was a former instructor at the notorious School of the Americas and an ardent defender of that institution while at what is now called the William J. Perry Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies.
Since its opening in 2001, WHINSEC has trained more than 19,000 students from 36 countries of the Western Hemisphere. In 2014-2015, the principal "Command & General Staff Officer" course had 65 graduates (60 male and 5 female) representing 13 nations: Belize, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and the U.S.
In 2004, Venezuela ceased all training of its soldiers at WHINSEC 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.
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. Bolivian President Evo Morales formally announced on February 18, 2008, that he would not send Bolivian military or police officers to WHINSEC. 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.
In 2005 a bill to abolish the institute, with 134 cosponsors, was introduced to the House Armed Services Committee. In June 2007, the McGovern/Lewis Amendment to shut off funding for the Institute failed by six votes. This effort to close the Institute was endorsed by the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, which described the Institute as a "black eye" for America.
(According to another source, Cecil Himes was commandant from 1958 to 1961.)
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Authorized by the United States Congress through 10 U.S.C. § 2166 in 2001, WHINSEC is responsible for providing professional education and training on the context of the democratic principles in the Charter of the Organization of American States (such charter being a treaty to which the United States is a party), and foster 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. WHINSEC has provided training for more than 10,000 individuals since its existence and over 60,000 US and international students since its original establishment in 1946. 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 to share best practices in pursuit of improved security cooperation between all nations of the Western Hemisphere.
When the National Defense Authorization Act for 2001 was signed into law, WHINSEC was created. The law called for a federal advisory committee--the Board of Visitors (BoV)--to maintain independent review, observation, and recommendations regarding operations of the institute. The 14-member BoV includes members of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, representatives from the State Department, U.S. Southern Command, U.S. Northern Command, the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command, and six members designated by the Secretary of Defense. These six members include representatives from the human rights, religious, academic, and business communities. The board reviews and advises on areas such as curriculum, academic instruction, and fiscal affairs of the institute. Their reviews ensure relevance and consistency with US policy, laws, regulations, and doctrine.
Members of the Board are not compensated by reason of service on the Board.
As of August 2018, Board members include:
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 current human rights; most Argentine military graduates are currently in prison by crimes against humanity and genocide.
The institute itself explicitly denies accusations of teaching torture: in 1999 the School of the Americas FAQ had several answers denying accusations of torture, such as "Q: What about the accusations that the School teaches torture and murder? A: Absolutely false. The School teaches U.S. Army doctrine which is based on over 200 years of success, and includes a variety of military subjects, none of which include criminal misconduct." WHINSEC says that its curriculum includes human rights, and that "no school should be held accountable for the actions of its graduates."
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. It maintains a database with graduates of both the SOA and WHINSEC who have been accused of human rights violations and other criminal activity. 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.
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. On November 16, 1989, six Jesuit priests (Ignacio Ellacuría, Segundo Montes, Ignacio Martín-Baró, Joaquín López y López, Juan Ramón 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. A United Nations panel concluded that nineteen of the 27 killers were SOA graduates.
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 and sentenced for human rights violations and criminal activity in their home countries. In response to public debate and in order to promote transparency, the Freedom of Information Act released records that tracked trainees of the school. 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 Ten Most Wanted Fugitives. 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.
Other former students include Salvadoran Colonel and Atlacatl Battalion leader Domingo Monterrosa and other members of his group who were responsible for the El Mozote massacre, and Franck Romain, former leader of the Tonton Macoute, who was responsible for the St. Jean Bosco massacre. Honduran General Luis Alonso Discua was also a graduate of the school who later on commanded Battalion 3-16, a military death squad.
Critics of SOA Watch argue the connection between school attendees and violent activity 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 the Salvadoran Civil War began. Further, others assert that training statistics show that Argentina, a country that engaged in much anti-Communist sentiment and violence during the Cold War era, had a relatively small number of military personnel educated at the school.
In 2018, two of the highest officers of the Venezuelan Army, Minister of Defense Vladimir Padrino López and SEBIN director Gustavo González López were sanctioned by the United States for human rights abuses against opposition protesters and dissidents, corruption leading to the economic collapse of the country, and drug trafficking charges. Both of them were found to have been students of psychological operations courses at SOA in 1995 and 1991 respectively.
|Country||Some of the graduates|
|Argentina||Emilio Eduardo Massera, Jorge Rafael Videla, Leopoldo Galtieri, Roberto Eduardo Viola|
|Bolivia||Hugo Banzer Suárez, Luis Arce Gómez, Juan Ramón Quintana Taborga, Manfred Reyes Villa|
|Chile||Raúl Iturriaga, Manuel Contreras, Miguel Krassnoff|
|El Salvador||Roberto D'Aubuisson|
|Guatemala||Marco Antonio Yon Sosa|
Efraín Ríos Montt
Otto Pérez Molina
|Mexico||The Zetas Cartel founders Heriberto 'The Executioner' Lazcano and Arturo 'Zeta One' Guzmán Decena|
|Panama||Omar Torrijos, Manuel Noriega|
|Peru||Juan Velasco Alvarado, Vladimiro Montesinos, Ollanta Humala|
|Venezuela||Vladimir Padrino López, Gustavo González López|
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.
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