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File:WHISC logo.jpg

Official seal of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation

The Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHISC or WHINSEC), formerly the School of the Americas (SOA; Template:Lang-es) is a United States Department of Defense facility at Fort Benning near Columbus, Georgia in the United States.

Between 1946 and 2001, the SOA trained more than 61,000 Latin American soldiers and policemen. Some of them became notorious for human rights violations, including generals Leopoldo Galtieri, Efraín Ríos Montt and Manuel Noriega, dictators such as Bolivia's Hugo Banzer, some of Augusto Pinochet's officers,[1][2] members of the Atlacatl Battalion of El Salvador who carried out the El Mozote massacre of 1981, and the founders of Los Zetas, a drug cartel formerly affiliated with the Gulf Cartel.[3][4] Critics of the school argue that the education encouraged such internationally recognized human rights violating practices and that the WHINSEC is merely a new name for exactly the same practices. This is denied by the SOA/WHINSEC and its supporters, who claim they now emphasize democracy and human rights.[5][6]


In 1946, in the early days of the Cold War, the Latin American Training Center – U.S. Ground Forces was established in Panama[6] in the US army base of Fort Gulick, now housing the Melia Hotel.[2]

During 1949 it was expanded and became the U.S. Army Caribbean Training Center. It was expanded and renamed the U.S. Army School of the Americas in 1963. It relocated to Fort Benning in 1984, following the signing of the Panama Canal Treaty. More than 61,000 military personnel attended these United States Army schools.[6]

According to WHINSEC's web page, "the School of the Americas taught military education courses as they were taught in U. S. Armed Forces institutions—the School translated the courses, lessons plans and all, into Spanish. Beginning in 1963, and evolving as the region changed, SOA taught, at various times, professional military education and training courses to officers and non-commissioned officers in the areas of:

  • professional leadership (Command and General Staff course, Military Police courses, Infantry Officers Basic course, Artillery Officers course and a Cadet Orientation course);
  • infantry weapons (Mortar Officer course);
  • technical support (Engineer Basic and Officer courses, Radio Operators course, Small Caliber Repair course, Wheeled Vehicle Maintenance course and Medical Assistance courses);
  • counter-insurgency (Internal Defense and Development course, Military Intelligence course, Military Police course), introduced during 1963; and
  • specialized leadership and skills (Ranger course, Air Mobile course, Jungle Operations course, Patrolling course, Parachute Rigging course, Basic Airborne course, Pathfinder and Jumpmaster courses)."[6]

The current WHINSEC, now part of the United States Department of Defense, was created as part of the National Defense Authorization Act by Congress in 2001. The WHINSEC teaches its courses primarily in the Spanish language, especially for Latin American military, police and civilian personnel, as well as the Caribbean personnel in English, but is also open for persons from outside Latin America. Presently about 700 to 1,100 students attend WHINSEC[6] courses per year. According to official web site, the WHINSEC was established "to provide professional education and training to eligible persons of the nations of the Western Hemisphere within the context of the democratic principles set forth in the Charter of the Organization of American States." Its "mission also includes fostering mutual knowledge, transparency, confidence, and cooperation by promoting democratic values; respect for human rights; and an understanding of U.S. customs and traditions. Specific subjects set by Congress include leadership development; counterdrug; peacekeeping; democratic sustainment; resource management; and disaster preparedness and relief planning. In every course offered, eight hours of democracy and human rights instruction is mandatory."[7] Its motto is Libertad, Paz y Fraternidad (Liberty, Peace and Brotherhood).[8]

File:Soa logo.gif

Former logo of the School of Americas.

Currently all students are given a minimum of eight hours of instruction in "human rights, the rule of law, due process, civilian control of the military, and the role of the military in a democratic society." Courses can focus on leadership development, counter-drug operations, peace support operations, disaster relief, or "any other matter the Secretary [of Defense] deems appropriate."[9][10]

According to the Center for International Policy, a "Board of Visitors" is required to review and evaluate "curriculum, instruction, physical equipment, fiscal affairs, and academic methods." A federal committee, the board must include the chairmen and ranking minority members of both houses' Armed Services Committees (or surrogates), the senior Army officer responsible for training (or a surrogate), one person chosen by the Secretary of State, the head of the U.S. Southern command (or a surrogate), and six people chosen by the Secretary of Defense ("including, to the extent practicable, persons from academia and the religious and human rights communities"). The board reviews the institute's curriculum to determine whether it complies with U.S. laws and doctrine, and whether it is consistent with U.S. policy goals toward Latin America and the Caribbean.[10]

Human rights violations

The School of the Americas has been criticized concerning the human rights violations performed by a number of its graduates,[5][11] [12] while WHINSEC argues "that no school should be held accountable for the actions of its graduates."[10]

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,[10] but according to Human Rights Watch, "training alone, even when it includes human rights instruction, does not prevent human rights abuses."[11] U.S. Army Maj. Joe Blair, a former director of instruction at the school, said, "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."[5]

Intelligence training manuals

On June 28, 1996, a report issued by the Intelligence Oversight Board stated that "School of the Americas ... used improper instruction materials in training Latin American officers from 1982 to 1991. ... certain passages appeared to condone practices such as execution of guerillas, extortion, physical abuse, coercion, and false imprisonment."[12]

On September 20, 1996, the Pentagon released seven training manuals prepared by the U.S. military and used between 1987 and 1991 in Latin America and in intelligence training courses at the U.S. School of the Americas (SOA). The manuals were based in part on lesson plans used by the school as far back as 1982 and, in turn, based in part on older material from Project X.[2] According to Lisa Haugaard of School of the Americas Watch, these manuals taught repressive techniques and promoted the violation of human rights throughout Latin America and around the globe.[13] The manuals contain instructions in motivation by fear, bounties for enemy dead, false imprisonment, torture, execution, and kidnapping a target's family members. The Pentagon admitted that these manuals were a "mistake." [14]

After this investigation the Department of Defense discontinued the use of the manuals, directed their recovery to the extent practicable, and destroyed the copies in the field. U.S. Southern Command advised governments in Latin America that the manuals contained passages that did not represent U.S. government policy, and pursued recovery of the manuals from the governments and some individual students.[15] [16]


In 2004, Venezuela ceased all training of Venezuelan soldiers at WHINSEC.[17] 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 will continue its current policy of not sending soldiers to WHINSEC.[18][19] 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.[20] 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).[21]

Legislative action

A bill to abolish the school with 134 co-sponsors was introduced to the House Armed Services Committee in 2005.[22]

In June 2007 the McGovern/Lewis Amendment to shut off funding for the Institute failed by 6 votes.[23] This effort to close the Institute was endorsed by the non-partisan Council on Hemispheric Affairs who called the Institute a "black eye".[24]

SOA Watch

Since 1990, Washington, D.C.-based non profit 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.[25] It maintains a database with graduates of both the SOA and WHINSEC who have been accused of human rights violations and other criminal activity.[26] In regard to the re-naming 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.[27]

Protests and Public demonstrations

Since 1990, SOA Watch has sponsored an annual public demonstration of protest of SOA/WHISC 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. [28]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.[29] A United Nations panel concluded that 19 of the 27 killers were SOA graduates.[30]

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.[1] 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 (alias “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.[32]
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[33].


Luis Posada Carriles at Fort Benning, Georgia, 1962

More recently, a SOA/WHINSEC graduate, General Romeo Vásquez Velásquez, took active part in the 2009 Honduran constitutional crisis.[34][35]

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.[36]

Educated according to other sources

Luis Posada Carriles was educated by the CIA in explosives and sabotage at Fort Benning (the current location of the academy) between March 1963 and March 1964, after his participation in the Bay of Pigs invasion.[39][40][41][42]

In 1992 the OAS Inter-American Commission on Human Rights recommended prosecution of Col. Cid Diaz for murder in association with the 1983 Las Hojas massacre. His name is on a State Department list of gross human rights abusers. Diaz went to the Institute in 2003.[43][44]

Media representation


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Notorious Graduates". School of the Americas Watch. Retrieved November 16, 2005.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Davies, George ‘I’ll take the CIA torture suite’, The First Post, dated August 16, 2006, accessed August 14, 2006.
  3. Thompson, Ginger (September 30, 2005). "Mexico Fears Its Drug Traffickers Get Help From Guatemalans". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-04-27.
  4. Laurie Freeman, State of Siege: Drug-Related Violence and Corruption in Mexico, Washington Office on Latin America, June 2006.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Bay Area Protesters Sentenced in Georgia
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 "FAQ". Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.
  7. "History of the Institute". Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.
  8. "A Welcome from the Commandant". Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. Retrieved May 16, 2006.
  9. "Democracy & Human Rights at WHINSEC". Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. Retrieved 2008-10-12.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 "Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation". Center for International Policy. Retrieved May 6, 2006.
  11. 11.0 11.1 Human Rights Watch, Colombia - The Ties That Bind: Colombia and Military-Paramilitary Links February 2000, Vol. 12, No. 1 (B).
  12. 12.0 12.1 US Intelligence Oversight Board cites SOA SOA Watch, 1996.
  13. Haugaard, Lisa. "US Training Manuals Declassified". Retrieved May 6, 2006.
  14. "Unmatched Power, Unmet Principles: The Human Rights Dimensions of US Training of Foreign Military and Police Forces 2002 Report of Amnesty International USA (Amnesty International USA)" (PDF). Amnesty International. 2002. Retrieved April 14, 2006.[dead link]
    * "Pentagon Investigation Concludes that Techniques in SOA manuals were ‘mistakes.’". School of the Americas Watch. February 21, 1997. Retrieved April 14, 2006.
  15. "Fact Sheet Concerning Training Manuals Containing Materials Inconsistent With U.S. Policy". From the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense/Public Affairs Office. August 27, 1992.
  16. from on May 18, 2009.
  17. "National Venezuela Solidarity Conference". School of the Americas Watch. Retrieved May 6, 2006.
  18. "Argentina & Uruguay abandon SOA!". School of the Americas Watch. Retrieved May 6, 2006.
  19. "¡No Más! No More!". School of the Americas Watch. Archived from the original on May 4, 2006. Retrieved May 6, 2006.
  20. "Costa Rica to Cease Police Training at the SOA/WHINSEC". School of the Americas Watch. Retrieved May 31, 2007.
  21. "Bolivian Military Withdraws from Controversial U.S. Army Training School". School of the Americas Watch. Archived from the original on March 7, 2008. Retrieved February 18, 2008.
  22. "H.R.1217". The Library of Congress. Retrieved May 6, 2006.
  23. "WHINSEC Remains Open: Congress Narrowly Fails to Halt Funding the Former School of the Americas". Council on Hemispheric Affairs. 2007-07-06. Retrieved 2008-10-12.
  24. "Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation". Council on Hemispheric Affairs. Retrieved 2008-10-12.
  25. "About SOA Watch". School of the Americas Watch. Retrieved May 6, 2006.
  26. "SOA/WHINSEC Grads in the News". School of the Americas Watch. Retrieved March 6, 2008.
  27. "Critique of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation". School of the Americas Watch. Retrieved November 16, 2005.
  28. Truth Commissions: Reports: El Salvador - The Hague Justice Portal- accessed November 20, 2010
  29. Global Capitalism, Liberation Theology, and the Social Sciences: An Analysis of the Contradictions of Modernity at the Turn of the Millennium (paperback) by Andreas Muller (editor), Arno Tausch (editor), Paul M. Zulehner (editor), Henry Wickens (editor), Hauppauge/Huntington, New York: Nova Science Publishers, ISBN 1560726792.
  30. Krickl, Tony (February 3, 2007). "CGU Student Josh Harris to Spend Two Months in Federal Prison for Protesting". Claremont Courier.
  31. Who Benefits from Global Violence and War: Uncovering A Destructive System, by Marc Pilisuk, 2008, Greenwood Publishing Group, p. 147.
  32. "US trained Colombian soldiers jailed for working with cartel, says human rights group". School of the Americas Watch. Associated Press. Archived from the original on October 16, 2007. Retrieved August 18, 2007.
  33. Notorious Graduates from Haiti, SOA Watch
  34. [1]
  35. Nikolas Kozloff. The Coup in Honduras Counterpunch, June 29, 2009.
  36. Mulshine, Paul. "The War in Central America Continues". Archived from the original on 19 December 2002. Retrieved 6 November 2007.
  37. "The New Strategy". Time Magazine. 1965-04-23.
  38. School of the Americas |
  39. Candiotti, Susan (2005-05-18). "Alleged anti-Castro terrorist Posada arrested". CNN. Archived from the original on 2008-06-02. Retrieved 2008-05-22.
  40. National Lawyers Guild Calls for Immediate Extradition of Luis Posada to Venezuela, NLG press release, April 20, 2005. Accessed February 24, 2007.
  42. Zalman, Amy. Luis Posada Carriles (anti-Castro Cuban terrorism)
  43. "Congressman James McGovern : Latest News : Congressman McGovern's statements on limiting funding for the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation".,15&itemid=74. Retrieved 2008-10-12.
  44. "Teaching Torture". LA Weekly. Retrieved 2008-10-12.

Further reading

  • Danner, Mark (2004). Torture and Truth: America, Abu Ghraib, and the War on Terror. New York Review Books. ISBN 1-59017-152-7.
  • Harbury, Jennifer K. (2005). Truth, Torture, and the American Way. Beacon Press. ISBN 0-8070-0307-7. 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."
  • Hodge, James; Linda Cooper (2004). Disturbing the Peace: The Story of Father Roy Bourgeois and the Movement to Close the School of Americas. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books. ISBN 1-57075-434-9.
  • Gill, Lesley. The School of the Americas - Military Training and Political Violence in the Americas. Durham: Duke University Press, 2004.

See also

External links

Official government websites

Other websites

Media and Documentaries

ar:مدرسة الأمريكيتين ca:Escola de les Amèriques cs:Institut západní polokoule pro bezpečnostní spolupráci da:Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation de:Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation es:Instituto del Hemisferio Occidental para la Cooperación en Seguridad fr:École militaire des Amériques gl:Escola das Américas it:Istituto dell'Emisfero Occidentale per la Cooperazione alla Sicurezza he:מכון חצי הכדור המערבי לשיתוף פעולה ביטחוני ja:西半球安全保障協力研究所 pt:Escola das Américas ru:Школа Америк fi:Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation sv:Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation

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