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Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation
Motto Libertad, Paz y Fraternidad (Freedom, Peace, and Fraternity)
Established 1946 (as Escuela de las Americas), as WHINSEC 2000/2001
Budget $14M as of FY2010

The Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), formerly known as the US Army School of the Americas,[1][2] is a United States Department of Defense Institute located at Fort Benning near Columbus, Georgia, that provides military training to government personnel in US-allied Latin American nations.

The school was founded in 1946 and from 1961 was assigned the specific goal of teaching "anti-communist counterinsurgency training," a role which it would fulfill for the rest of the Cold War.[3] In this period, it educated several Latin American dictators, generations of their military and, during the 1980s, included the uses of torture in its curriculum.[4][5] In 2000/2001, the institute was renamed to WHINSEC.[6][7]:233


The US Army School of the Americas was founded in 1946 and originally located at Fort Gulick in the Panama Canal Zone. In 1984 the school was moved to Fort Benning, Georgia.[8] 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.[3] At the time and in those places, "communists" was, in the words of anthropologist Lesley Gill, "... an enormously elastic category that could accommodate almost any critic of the status quo."[7]:10

During this period, Colombia supplied the largest number of students from any client country.[7]:17 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".[7]:10 This term was later replaced by "the more ominous sounding 'terrorist'".[7]:10

In 1999, the School of the Americas website said in its FAQ section, "Many of the [School′s] critics supported Marxism -- Liberation Theology -- in Latin America -- which was defeated with the assistance of the U.S. Army."[3]


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 Congress, through the FY01 National Defense Act, withdrew the Secretary of the Army's authority to operate USARSA.[8]

The next year, WHINSEC was founded as a successor institute. 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."[1]

But 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".[9]


In 2004, Venezuela ceased all training of its soldiers at WHINSEC[10] 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.[11][12]

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.[13] Bolivian President Evo Morales formally announced on February 18, 2008, that he would not send Bolivian military or police officers to WHINSEC.[14] 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.[15]

In 2005 a bill to abolish the institute, with 134 cosponsors, was introduced to the House Armed Services Committee.[16] In June 2007, the McGovern/Lewis Amendment to shut off funding for the Institute failed by six votes.[17] This effort to close the Institute was endorsed by the nonpartisan Council on Hemispheric Affairs, which described the Institute as a "black eye" for America.[18]

Current organization[]


Authorized by the United States Congress through 10 U.S.C. § 2166 in 2001,[19] WHINSEC "provides professional education and training to eligible personnel of nations of the Western Hemisphere within the context of the democratic principles set forth in the Charter of the Organization of American States[20] (such charter being a treaty to which the United States is a party), while fostering 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.[21] Throughout the decade since its establishment, WHINSEC has provided training for more than 13,000 US and international students. 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[22] to share best practices in pursuit of improved security cooperation between all nations of the Western Hemisphere.


In 10 USC 2166, Congress establishes an independent review board (a federal advisory committee) to "inquire into the curriculum, instruction, physical equipment, fiscal affairs, and academic methods of the Institute, other matters relating to the Institute that the Board decides to consider, and any other matter that the Secretary of Defense determines appropriate".[23] The "Board of Visitors" (BoV), as this committee is named, is responsible for reviewing the curriculum of WHINSEC to "determine whether the curriculum complies with applicable United States laws and regulations; is consistent with United States policy goals toward Latin America and the Caribbean; adheres to current United States doctrine; and appropriately emphasizes the matters specified in subsection (d)(1): "The curriculum of the Institute shall include mandatory instruction for each student, for at least 8 hours, on human rights, the rule of law, due process, civilian control of the military, and the role of the military in a democratic society." The Board must also submit an annual report to the Secretary of Defense on its findings and recommendations related to its review of the institute. Copies of their reports are posted on the Federal Advisory Committee website.[24]

The fourteen-member BoV currently includes these people:

  • Senator Carl Levin (Senate Armed Services Committee majority, D-MI)
  • Senator Saxby Chambliss (Senate Armed Services Committee minority, R-GA)
  • Rep. Phil Gingrey (House Armed Services Committee majority, R-GA)
  • Rep. Loretta Sanchez (House Armed Services Committee minority, D-CA)
  • GEN John F. Kelly (United States Southern Command)[25]
  • GEN Charles H. Jacoby (United States Northern Command) [26]

It also has six members designated by the Secretary of Defense from the community at large. These six members include representatives from the human rights, religious, academic, and business communities. Members of the Board are not compensated for service on the Board. A full listing of the BoV members can be found on the Federal Advisory Committee website[24] and the WHINSEC public website.[27] The BoV annual meeting is open to the public, and meeting dates are posted in advance on the Federal Register.[28]

Criticism of WHINSEC[]

Human rights violations by graduates[]

WHINSEC has been criticized for human rights violations committed by former students.[1][29][30]

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."[citation needed] 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,[31] but according to Human Rights Watch, "training alone, even when it includes human rights instruction, does not prevent human rights abuses."[29]

WHINSEC has said "that no school should be held accountable for the actions of its graduates."[31]

SOA Watch[]

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.[32] It maintains a database with graduates of both the SOA and WHINSEC who have been accused of human rights violations and other criminal activity.[33] 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.[34]

Protests and public demonstrations[]

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.[35] 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.[36] A United Nations panel concluded that nineteen of the 27 killers were SOA graduates.[37]

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."

—Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy II[38]

A number of graduates of the SOA and WHINSEC have been accused of human rights violations and criminal activity in their home countries.[39] 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'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.[40]
Other 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.[41]

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.[42]

Country Some of the graduates
 Argentina Emilio Massera, Jorge Rafael Videla, Leopoldo Galtieri, Roberto Eduardo Viola
 Bolivia Hugo Banzer Suárez, Luis Arce Gómez
 Chile Raúl Iturriaga, Manuel Contreras
 Ecuador Guillermo Rodríguez
 El Salvador Roberto D'Aubuisson
 The Gambia President of the Gambia Yahya Jammeh
 Guatemala Marco Antonio Yon Sosa[43]
Efraín Ríos Montt
Otto Pérez Molina[44]
 Mexico The Zetas Cartel founders Heriberto 'The Executioner' Lazcano and Arturo 'Zeta One' Guzmán Decena[45][46][47]
 Panama Manuel Noriega
 Peru Vladimiro Montesinos, Juan Velasco Alvarado

Educated according to other sources[]

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.[6][48]

Media representation[]

  • School of the Americas Assassins, a 1994 short documentary film produced by Robert Richter. It was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Short.
  • Hidden in Plain Sight, a 2003 feature-length documentary film produced by Andrés Thomas Conteris, Vivi Letsou, and John Smihula.
  • The War on Democracy, a 2007 documentary film produced by Youngheart Entertainment PTY Limited.

See also[]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Bill Wallace; Jim Houston (July 13, 2002). "Bay Area protesters sentenced in Georgia". Retrieved August 12, 2012. 
  2. Monbiot, George (30 October 2001). "Backyard terrorism: The US has been training terrorists at a camp in Georgia for years – and it's still at it". Retrieved 7 May 2013. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 "U.S. Army School of the Americas: Frequently Asked Questions". United States Army. 1999. Archived from the original on April 28, 1999. Retrieved August 12, 2012. 
  4. Editorial (September 28, 1996). "School of the Dictators". Retrieved August 12, 2012. 
  5. Editorial (October 1, 1996). "Teaching Human Rights Violations". p. A18. Retrieved August 12, 2012. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 "Teaching Torture". LA Weekly. Retrieved October 12, 2008. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 Gill, Lesley (2004). The School of the Americas: Military Training and Political Violence in the Americas. Duke University Press. ISBN 0-8223-3392-9. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 "Public Law 106–398: National Defense Authorization, Fiscal Year 2001". United States Department of Defense. October 30, 2000. Retrieved August 12, 2012. 
  9. Ruth Blakeley (2013). "Chapter 13: Elite interviews". In Laura J. Shepherd. Critical Approaches to Security: An Introduction to Theories and Methods. Routledge. 
  10. "National Venezuela Solidarity Conference". School of the Americas Watch. Retrieved May 6, 2006. 
  11. "Argentina & Uruguay abandon SOA!". School of the Americas Watch. Retrieved May 6, 2006. 
  12. "¡No Más! No More!". School of the Americas Watch. Archived from the original on May 4, 2006. Retrieved May 6, 2006. 
  13. "Costa Rica to Cease Police Training at the SOA/WHINSEC". School of the Americas Watch. Retrieved May 31, 2007. 
  14. "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. 
  15. "SOAW". 
  16. "H.R.1217". The Library of Congress. Retrieved May 6, 2006. 
  17. "WHINSEC Remains Open: Congress Narrowly Fails to Halt Funding the Former School of the Americas". Council on Hemispheric Affairs. July 6, 2007. Retrieved October 12, 2008. 
  18. "Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation". Council on Hemispheric Affairs. Retrieved October 12, 2008. 
  19. "10 USC Chapter 108-Armed Forces, Subtitle A-General Military Law, Part III-Training and Education, Chapter 108-Department of Defense Schools, Section. 2166". U.S. House of Representatives. January 3, 2012. Retrieved August 12, 2012. 
  20. Charter of the OAS including members
  21. William J. Lynn III, Deputy Secretary of Defense (March 18, 2010). "Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC)". United States Department of Defense. Retrieved August 12, 2012. 
  22. "Overview". WHINSEC. The United States Army. Retrieved August 12, 2012. 
  23. "§2166. Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation". U.S. Government Printing Office. Retrieved August 12, 2012. 
  24. 24.0 24.1 Public Access
  27. "Chain of Command". The United States Army. Retrieved August 12, 2012. 
  29. 29.0 29.1 "Columbia: The Ties That Bind: Colombia and Military-Paramilitary Links". Human Rights Watch. February 2000. Retrieved August 12, 2012. .
  30. "US Intelligence Oversight Board cites SOA". SOA Watch. 1996. Retrieved August 12, 2012. 
  31. 31.0 31.1 "Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation". Center for International Policy. Retrieved May 6, 2006. 
  32. "About SOA Watch". School of the Americas Watch. Retrieved May 6, 2006. 
  33. "SOA/WHINSEC Grads in the News". School of the Americas Watch. Retrieved March 6, 2008. 
  34. "Critique of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation". School of the Americas Watch. Retrieved November 16, 2005. 
  35. Truth Commissions: Reports: El Salvador – The Hague Justice Portal – accessed November 20, 2010[dead link]
  36. 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 1-56072-679-2.
  37. Krickl, Tony (February 3, 2007). "CGU Student Josh Harris to Spend Two Months in Federal Prison for Protesting". Claremont Courier. [dead link]
  38. Who Benefits from Global Violence and War: Uncovering A Destructive System, by Marc Pilisuk, 2008, Greenwood Publishing Group, p. 147.
  39. "Notorious Graduates". School of the Americas Watch. Retrieved November 16, 2005. 
  40. "US trained Colombian soldiers jailed for working with cartel, says human rights group". School of the Americas Watch. Archived from the original on October 16, 2007. Retrieved August 18, 2007. 
  41. Notorious Graduates from Haiti, SOA Watch "Notorious Graduates from Haiti"]. SOA Watch. Notorious Graduates from Haiti], SOA Watch. Retrieved August 12, 2012. 
  42. Mulshine, Paul. "The War in Central America Continues". FrontPage Magazine. Archived from the original on December 19, 2002. Retrieved November 6, 2007. 
  43. "The New Strategy". Time Magazine. April 23, 1965. 
  44. "SOA Grads". SOA Watch. Retrieved August 12, 2012. 
  48. "Congressman James McGovern : Latest News : Congressman McGovern's statements on limiting funding for the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation".,15&itemid=74. Retrieved October 12, 2008. 

Further reading[]

Official government websites[]

Other websites[]

Media and documentaries[]

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