Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation

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Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation
Official seal
Motto Libertad, Paz y Fraternidad (Freedom, Peace, and Fraternity)
Established 1946 (as Escuela de las Americas), as WHINSEC 2000/2001
Commandant Colonel Glenn R. Huber Jr.
Budget $14M as of FY2010
Members 215
Owner United States Department of Defense
Location Fort Benning, Georgia, United States
Coordinates 32°21′54.1″N 84°57′21.25″W / 32.365028°N 84.9559028°W / 32.365028; -84.9559028
Address 7161 Richardson Circle
Website Official website

The Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), formerly known as the U.S. Army School of the Americas (SOA),[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. It also provides training to U.S. military students to promote Spanish language and cultural competency.[3]

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.[4] 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.[5][6] In 2000/2001, the institute was renamed to WHINSEC.[7][8]:233 [9] According to a Command and General Foundation News issue, the current curriculum at WHINSEC is compatible with curriculum taught at U.S. military academies.  WHINSEC faculty members travel to Fort Leavenworth in Kansas throughout the year in order to remain up to date on curriculum changes.[3] However, the school remains controversial due to its influence over affairs in Latin America and its education of Latin American state actors within the military and law enforcement.[10]

In July, 2016, just days before the Democratic Party convention, a Platform Committee meeting in Orlando, Florida, issued a call for the closing of the Institute as one of its planks into the Democratic Party's policy platform. The amendment, which was agreed to by representatives of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, said: "Our support of democracies and civilian governments in the Western Hemisphere includes our belief that their military and police forces should never be involved in the political process, and therefore we will reinstate the 2000 Congressional mandate to close the School of the Americas now known as WHINSEC." [11]



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.[12] 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.[4] 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."[8]:10 During this period, Colombia supplied the largest number of students from any client country.[8]: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.[13] 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.[12] Further international curriculum on human rights was included in the instruction, as were warnings about the penalties of human rights abuses.[14] 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 experts of these manuals in September 1996, prompting further criticism of and controversy surrounding the School.[12] 

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".[8]:10 This term was later replaced by "the more ominous sounding 'terrorist'".[8]: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.[15]


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.[16]

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."[1]

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".[17]


Since its opening in 2001, WHINSEC has trained more than 19,000 students from 36 countries of the Western Hemisphere.[18] 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.[19]

In 2004, Venezuela ceased all training of its soldiers at WHINSEC[20] 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.[21][22]

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.[23] Bolivian President Evo Morales formally announced on February 18, 2008, that he would not send Bolivian military or police officers to WHINSEC.[24] 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.[25]

In 2005 a bill to abolish the institute, with 134 cosponsors, was introduced to the House Armed Services Committee.[26] In June 2007, the McGovern/Lewis Amendment to shut off funding for the Institute failed by six votes.[27] This effort to close the Institute was endorsed by the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, which described the Institute as a "black eye" for America.[28]

Current organization[edit]


Authorized by the United States Congress through 10 U.S.C. § 2166 in 2001,[29] 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[30] (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.[31] 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[32] to share best practices in pursuit of improved security cooperation between all nations of the Western Hemisphere.


Independent Review Board[edit]

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".[33] 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. From 1997 to 2012, copies of their reports were posted on the Federal Advisory Committee website.[34]

Board of Visitors[edit]

The fourteen-member BoV currently includes these people:

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[34] and the WHINSEC public website.[37] The BoV annual meeting is open to the public, and meeting dates are posted in advance on the Federal Register.[38]

Criticism of WHINSEC[edit]

Human rights violations by graduates[edit]

WHINSEC has been criticized for human rights violations committed by former students.[1][39][40]

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.

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."[4] WHINSEC says that its curriculum includes human rights,[41] and that "no school should be held accountable for the actions of its graduates."[41]

Human Rights Watch says that "training alone, even when it includes human rights instruction, does not prevent human rights abuses."[39]

William J. Perry Center human rights controversy involving first WHINSEC Commandant[edit]

Beginning in late 2014 in response to a request by then Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Carl Levin, SouthCom's William J. Perry Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies (CHDS), located at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C., was under investigation by the Department of Defense Office of Inspector General. The probe focused on the time (from March 2004 to March 2013) that the first WHINSEC Commandant, West Point graduate Richard D. Downie,[42] headed the U.S. Southern Command training institution. (Downie had in 2012 given WHINSEC the CHDS Dr. William J. Perry Award for Excellence in Security and Defense Education.)[43] Insider national security whistleblower complaints, some echoing those made about the School of the Americas, included that the Center knowingly protected a CHDS professor from Chile who belonged to the DINA state terrorist organization (whose terrorist attack against a former Chilean foreign minister in 1976 in Washington, D.C. resulted in two deaths, including that of an American); the potential clandestine involvement of Center officials in the 2009 Honduran coup, as well as gross mismanagement, corruption, homophobia, racism, and sexism. In 2015 the Center for Public Integrity quoted an internal Southern Command document that reported that CHDS "staff had exchanged 'racially charged emails' — including one directed at President Barack Obama; used offensive language such as 'faggot,' 'buttboy' and 'homo'; and that 'women employees feel that they are treated inappropriately.' Even senior leaders used 'inappropriate hand gestures,' it said, and mentioned simulations of masturbation." However, unlike the 2012 SouthCom prostitution scandal, there is no public information that suggests any wrongdoers were punished in any way, while those complaining about such malfeasance were harassed by senior officials. "Reports that NDU hired foreign military officers with histories of involvement in human rights abuses, including torture and extra-judicial killings of civilians, are stunning, and they are repulsive," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, the author of the Leahy Law prohibiting U.S. assistance to military units and members of foreign security forces that violate human rights.[44][45][46][47][48]

SOA Watch[edit]

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.[49] It maintains a database with graduates of both the SOA and WHINSEC who have been accused of human rights violations and other criminal activity.[50] 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.[51]

Protests and public demonstrations[edit]

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.[52] On November 16, 1989, six Jesuit priests (Ignacio Ellacuría, Segundo Montes, Ignacio Martín-Baró, 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.[53] A United Nations panel concluded that nineteen of the 27 killers were SOA graduates.[54]

Graduates of the School of the Americas[edit]

"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.[55]

A number of graduates of the SOA and WHINSEC have been accused and sentenced of human rights violations and criminal activity in their home countries.[56] In response to public debate and in order to promote transparency, the Freedom of Information Act released records that tracked trainees of the school.[13] 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.[57]
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,[58][8] and Franck Romain, former leader of the Tonton Macoute, who was responsible for the St Jean Bosco massacre.[59] Honduran General Luis Alonso Discua was also a graduate of the school who later on commanded Battalion 3-16, a military death squad.[8]

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 El Salvador's civil war began.[60] 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.[14]

Country Some of the graduates
 Argentina Emilio 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
 Ecuador Guillermo Rodríguez
 El Salvador Roberto D'Aubuisson
 Guatemala Marco Antonio Yon Sosa[61]
Efraín Ríos Montt
Otto Pérez Molina[62]
 Mexico The Zetas Cartel founders Heriberto 'The Executioner' Lazcano and Arturo 'Zeta One' Guzmán Decena[63][64][65]
 Panama Omar Torrijos, Manuel Noriega
 Peru Juan Velasco Alvarado, Vladimiro Montesinos, Ollanta Humala
 Venezuela Vladimir Padrino López

Educated according to other sources[edit]

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.[7][66]


In July 2016, just days before the Democratic Party convention, a Platform Committee meeting in Orlando, Florida, issued a call for the closing of the Institute as one of its planks into the Democratic Party's policy platform. The amendment, which was agreed to by representatives of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, said: "Our support of democracies and civilian governments in the Western Hemisphere includes our belief that their military and police forces should never be involved in the political process, and therefore we will reinstate the 2000 Congressional mandate to close the School of the Americas now known as WHINSEC." Clinton reaffirmed the importance of the overall work done together with Sanders representatives in putting together the platform in her presidential nomination acceptance speech at the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia.[67]

Media representation[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Bill Wallace; Jim Houston (July 13, 2002). "Bay Area protesters sentenced in Georgia". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved August 12, 2012. 
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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Official government websites[edit]

Other websites[edit]

Media and documentaries[edit]