School of the Americas

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The U.S. Army School of the Americas (SOA), located in Fort Benning, Georgia, is a military training institution focused on training officers from Latin American countries. Since its creation in 1946, some 60,000 Latin American military officers have graduated from the school. [1]

Human rights concerns

Many of its graduates have been implicated in serious human rights abuses and manuals used at the school appear to condone if not promote the use of torture. [2] This has resulted in a grassroots human rights campaign to close the SOA, led by the organization SOA Watch. Activists opposed to the SOA often refer to the school as the "School of Assassins" and the "School of Coups." [3]

Abuses SOA graduates have alleged to have committed include "the death or disappearance of 200,000 Guatemalans and innumerable other atrocities... In Colombia 2 million have been displaced and thousands are still reliving the horrors of their torture - not surprising since, with 10,000 graduates from the SOA, Colombia is the school's largest customer and has the worst human rights record on the continent." [4]

A new name

In 2000, pressure on Congress to stop funding the SOA increased to the point where the Pentagon decided to rename the school the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, abbreviated as WHISC or WHINSEC. [5] [6]

Total Cooperation

In 2004, Venezuela ceased all training of Venezuelan soldiers at WHINSEC.[1] On March 28, 2006, the government of Argentina, headed by President Nestor Kirchner, decided to stop sending soldiers to train at WHINSEC, and the government of Uruguay affirmed that it will continue its current policy of not sending soldiers to WHINSEC.[2][3] In 2007, Oscar Arias, president of Costa Rica, decided to stop sending Costa Rican police to the WHINSEC, although 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.[4] In a letter to the Commandant of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), U.S. Army Col. Gilberto Perez, Bolivian President Evo Morales formally announced on February 18, 2008 that he will not send Bolivian military or police officers to attend training programs at the institute formerly known as the U.S. Army School of the Americas (SOA).[5] According to a joint statement posted on a United States government web site, "We, the leaders of North America, have come together in Guadalajara to promote the global competitiveness of our region, foster the well-being of our citizens, and make our countries more secure. We build our collaboration on the understanding that our deepening ties are a source of strength."

SOA protests

Since 1990, activists associated with SOA Watch have held nonviolent protests on the SOA / WHINSEC base and/or just outside its gates. These protests are organized for mid-November, in commemoration of the November 16, 1989 killing of six Jesuit priests, their co-worker and her teenage daughter in El Salvador. According to SOA Watch, "A U.S. Congressional Task Force reported that those responsible [for the El Salvador killings] were trained at the U.S. Army School of the Americas." [7]

In November 2002, some 7,000 demonstrators from all regions of the United States converged for the SOA / WHINSEC protest. [8] Since 2000, the annual demonstrations have drawn 7,000 to 15,000 people.

SOA communications plan

In February 2005, at the federal trial of 14 activists charged with trespassing on the SOA / WHINSEC base, defendant Aaron Shuman introduced as evidence the School's "Strategic Communications Campaign Plan." Shuman obtained the plan as part of an "an interview two years ago with the institute’s public affairs officer Lee Rials." [9]

The SOA / WHINSEC communications plan had a total budget of $246,000, including $9,000 for "media monitoring software" and $50,000 for Internet work. [10]. The plan's tactics were "to track news media coverage of the school worldwide, to create pre-fab letters to the editor to counter negative views and to track the comings and goings of [SOA Watch founder Father Roy] Bourgeois, with the aim of getting an Army representative on the bill to counter the priest’s point of view whenever he speaks." [11]

Another media tactic was "an analysis of opinion/editorial pieces" on the School, which rated columns as "negative," "balanced" or "positive," and noted whether columns called for the School to "reform" or "close." [12]

Also entered as evidence in Shuman's trial was "a memorandum signed by Lt. Gen. James C. Riley," which "described the challenge the institute faces in light of efforts to close the school." The memo said SOA Watch “claims a false cause-and-effect relationship between training at the now-closed U.S. Army School of the Americas and WHINSEC and the criminal acts of a few who have attended the school’s programs in the distant past." The memo concluded that "a consistent, programmed, proactive public affairs effort in direct support of the institute" was necessary to counter SOA Watch's "negative political rhetoric." [13]

Reacting to the public release of the School's communications plan, Lee Rials told the PR trade industry news site O'Dwyer's that SOA / WHINSEC is getting a "bum rap" from activists. O'Dwyer's reported, "Rials said Bourgeois is pretty easy to monitor since his schedule is on the [SOA Watch] website. 'All we want,' said Rials, 'is a representative on the panel to present the Army's position.' The Army recently had an official debate a [SOA Watch] staffer at the University of San Francisco School of Law, according to Rials." [14]

Copies of the Communications plan can be downloaded from here:

SourceWatch resources

External links


  1. National Venezuela Solidarity Conference. School of the Americas Watch. Retrieved on May 6, 2006.
  2. Argentina & Uruguay abandon SOA!. School of the Americas Watch. Retrieved on May 6, 2006.
  3. ¡No Más! No More!. School of the Americas Watch. Retrieved on May 6, 2006.
  4. Costa Rica to Cease Police Training at the SOA/WHINSEC. School of the Americas Watch. Retrieved on May 31, 2007.
  5. Bolivian Military Withdraws from Controversial U.S. Army Training School. School of the Americas Watch. Retrieved on February 18, 2008.