The School of the Americas is Still Going Strong – Its Purpose? To Keep Latin America Safe for US Multinationals

Founded in 1946 and renamed in 2001 the School of Americas is where Latin America’s Dictators and Torturers are Trained in the Dark Art of Subverting the Peoples’ Will

In 2001, after being in the public spotlight, the institution where so many torturers and mad dog dictators had learnt their skills was renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. However the role it performed was exactly the same as it had been before.

In 1961, US President John Kennedy ordered the school to focus on teaching “anti-communist” counterinsurgency training to military personnel from Latin America. According to anthropologist Lesley Gill, the label ‘”communistwas a highly elastic category that could accommodate almost any critic of the status quo.

Beginning in 1961, Nicaraguan Dictator Anastasio Somoza sent Nicaraguan officers to the school to attend a 46-week course in their final year of training. Somoza himself made occasional visits to the school. In 1963 it changed its name from the U.S. Army Caribbean School to the School of the Americas.

According to Major Joseph Blair, a former instructor at the school, “the author of SOA and CIA torture manuals […] drew from intelligence materials used during the Vietnam War that advocated assassination, torture, extortion, and other ‘techniques’.”[ The authors of the manuals “believed that oversight regulations and prohibitions applied only to U.S. personnel, not to foreign officers.” Use of the manuals was suspended under Jimmy Carter over concerns about their correlation to human rights abuses but were reinstated under Ronald Reagan

For those who don’t get this cartoon – pictured is George Bush whose flagship policy domestically was ‘leave no child behind’ in education

Between 1970 and 1979, cadets from Chile, Colombia, Bolivia, Panama, Peru, and Honduras made-up 63% of the school’s students. In 1980, the United States increased economic aid to Honduras. Journalist Ray Bonner reported that much of this aid would go toward training military officers at the School of the Americas and training programs within the continental United States. Hundreds of Hondurans were trained at the school during the 1980s, when the country became increasingly critical to Reagan’s efforts to overthrow and defeat the Nicaraguan Sandinistas and other revolutionary guerrilla movements in the region. During the 1980s, Mexico, El Salvador, and Colombia made-up 72% of the school’s cadets.

On September 21, 1984, the school was expelled from Panama.

School of the Americas Watch is an advocacy organization which was founded by Father Roy Bourgeois and a small group of supporters in 1990 to protest the training of mainly Latin American military officers by the School of the Americas (SOA). SOA Watch conducts a vigil each November at the site of SOA, located on the grounds of Fort Benning, a U.S. Army military base near Columbus, Georgia, to protest human rights abuses committed by some graduates of the academy or under their leadership, including murders, rapes and torture and contraventions of the Geneva Conventions.

Military officials state that even if graduates commit war crimes after they return to their home country, the school itself should not be held accountable for their actions. Responding to “mounting protests” spearheaded by SOA Watch, in 2000 the United States Congress renamed the School of the Americas the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), rather than closing the academy. In addition, all students must undergo a minimum of eight hours of class on human rights and the principle of civilian control of the military

One of the handbooks – subtle isn’t the name!

Inspired by the case of slain Archbishop Óscar Romero, who said “we who have a voice must speak for the voiceless,” former priest Roy Bourgeois, Larry Rosebaugh OMI, and Linda Ventimiglia posed as military officers and crossed into Ft. Benning in 1983. They climbed a tree near the barracks housing Salvadoran troops and read the final homily of Archbishop Oscar Romero through megaphones. Bourgeois and his companions were arrested and Bourgeois was sentenced to 18 months in prison for trespassing onto Federal property. Protesting against the teaching of torture is an offence in the United States!

Bourgeois and his followers began to research the School of the Americas, conduct public education campaigns, lobby Congress, and practice nonviolent resistance at the School of the Americas facilities.

Following the November 1989 murders of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter at the Central American University in El Salvador in which graduates of the School of the Americas were involved, SOA Watch organized an annual protest to be held on the anniversary of the massacre beginning the next year. The event has been held every year since then.

See The School Of The Americas Is Still Exporting Death Squads and
Controversial ‘School of the Americas’ Closes (in fact the only thing that changed was the name)

Shut Down the School of the Americas/ WHINSEC

By Dévora González Azadeh Shahshahani Jacobin


Shut Down the School of the Americas/ WHINSEC


Jacobin Magazine November 15 2019

The School of the Americas/WHINSEC in Fort Benning, Georgia, has become notorious for training and enabling torturers, dictators, and massacres throughout the Western Hemisphere…The school is still training…ICE and the Border Patrol.

On November 16, 1989, the US-trained and funded Salvadoran Atlacatl Battalion entered the grounds of El Salvador’s Central American University (UCA) and brutally murdered six Jesuit priests, sixteen-year-old Celina Ramos, and her mother, Elba Ramos. Nineteen of the twenty-five Atlacatl Battalion soldiers were graduates of the US Army School of the Americas (SOA) — a combat training institution with the ostensible aim of instructing Latin American militaries in control tactics over armed counterinsurgent groups.

SOA was founded in the Panama Canal Zone in 1946 and expelled from Panama to Fort Benning near Columbus, Georgia, in 1984. The slain Jesuit priests worked in solidarity with El Salvador’s poor and marginalized and were outspoken critics of the country’s military dictatorship. They are among the 75,000 civilians murdered during the US-backed war in El Salvador between 1980 and 1992.

The SOA has trained more than 83,000 Latin American security forces since its founding. Notorious graduates of the SOA — including nearly a dozen dictators and some of the worst human rights violators in the continent — are guilty of using torture, rape, assassination, forced disappearance, massacres, and forced displacement of communities to wage war against their own people. Former Panamanian president Jorge Illueca stated that the School of the Americas was the “biggest base for destabilization in Latin America.” US-led and supported state violence abroad has ravaged and devastated communities in Central and South America, many of whose people are forced to migrate north.

On September 20, 1996, under intense public scrutiny, the Pentagon released the SOA training manuals, which advocated torture, extortion, blackmail, and the targeting of civilian populations. The release of these manuals proved that US taxpayer money was used to teach Latin American state forces how to torture and repress civilian populations.

A US congressional task force reported that those responsible for the 1989 UCA massacre in El Salvador were trained at the US Army School of the Americas, and as public pressure mounted to close the SOA, the Department of Defense responded by replacing the School of the Americas with the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) in January 2001. The measure passed when the House of Representatives defeated a bipartisan amendment to close the school and conduct a congressional investigation by a narrow ten-vote margin. The opening of WHINSEC is not grounded in any critical assessment of the training, procedures, performance, or consequences of the training program it copies. Further, it ignores congressional concerns and the public outcry over the SOA’s past and present links to human rights atrocities.

To this day, WHINSEC continues to train Latin American security officers — including immigration officials.

In 2015, the first US Border Patrol agent graduated from the infamous training facility. On October 24 of this year, a contract between Border Patrol and Winchester Ammunition became public, confirming that Border Patrol purchased 33 million rounds of bullets and could purchase more than 330 million additional rounds over the next five years. Training of Border Patrol staff at Fort Benning coupled with their increased firepower is setting the stage for US state agents to wage war against undocumented migrants and refugees at border crossings and within the United States.

Over the past fifteen years, nearly one hundred people have been killed by US Border Patrol as a direct result of their excessive use of force, including the cross-border killings of fifteen-year-old Sergio Adrián Hernández Güereca in 2010 and sixteen-year-old José Antonio Elena Rodríguez in 2012. Both teenagers were on Mexican soil when they were shot at and killed by US Border Patrol agents located on US soil. Not a single Border Patrol agent has ever been held legally accountable for these crimes. According to a recent internal government report obtained by Quartz, criminal misconduct by border officers is at a five-year high.

In addition to US Border Patrol agents now being trained at the location notorious for instructing Latin American security forces in civilian-targeted warfare, on September 9 of this year, an unredacted Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) report revealed that ICE agents will also begin training there. The report divulged that ICE contracted New Mexico training systems company Strategic Operations for almost $1 million to build realistic models of US cities at Fort Benning. This will be a training facility meant to simulate raids that ICE teams would carry out in places like Chicago and Arizona, and the ICE Special Response Teams will be trained to deal with immigrants crossing the border.

There are already extremely detailed designs of buildings meant to imitate the kinds of places that ICE teams will raid, such as a two-story brick residential building typical of Chicago and a single-family six-room home typical of Arizona, complete with “set props” such as furniture, clothing, and toys. According to the contract, the plans include expansion for the future, with as many as fifty more buildings to be added to the training facility.

ICE agents have carried out violence against immigrants across the country. In July, video surfaced of ICE officers in Kansas City assaulting a man named Florencio Millan-Vazquez in front of his children and girlfriend; they smashed his car window and dragged him out to arrest him after claiming there was a warrant for his arrest, despite not providing evidence of this. More recently, an immigrant man was shot by ICE agents in Nashville, Tennessee, this past September and had to be hospitalized. ICE remains a human rights threat across the United States.

The United States is directly implicated in training and financing the perpetrators of gross human rights violations. In South and Central America, this violence is marked by military, economic, and political intervention, in addition to training proxy fighters at the SOA/WHINSEC. Now, US Department of Homeland Security agents are being trained at the same location in the same tactics of civilian-targeted warfare. The results are already clear: lethally trained and heavily militarized state security forces that target civilian populations, specifically communities of color, without meaningful oversight or accountability.

On the thirtieth anniversary of the UCA massacre, human rights organizations are continuing to call for the closure of the SOA/WHINSEC training facility at Fort Benning. The school’s crimes aren’t just evident in the atrocities of the past — they’re also still found in the horrors along the US-Mexico border and through the atrocious violence of ICE today. Those who are horrified by the crimes of the Border Patrol and ICE should join the call to shut down the SOA/WHINSEC and similar training centers.

Dévora González is a field organizer with the School of the Americas Watch; she tweets @SOAWatch.Azadeh Shahshahani is legal and advocacy director for Project South and a past president of the National Lawyers Guild. She tweets @ashahshahani.