Partial Legislative Victory!
by SOA Watch
October 8, 2009
For the first time in the history of the SOA Watch Legislative Campaign, the U.S. Congress has approved legislative language opposing the negative practices and secrecy at the School of the Americas (SOA), now renamed WHINSEC. Congratulations and thanks go to all who worked so hard this year to achieve victory! SOA Watch is encouraged and hopeful about the outcome, however serious concerns remain.
On June 25, 2009, the House of Representatives approved an amendment to the Defense Authorization bill by a vote of 224 – 190 that required the Pentagon to release information about students and instructors at the SOA/ WHINSEC. This language was not passed by the Senate, so for the past three months, human rights advocates embarked on a multi-level pressure campaign to ensure the House-Senate conference committee included the amendment language in the final version of the bill. It was the second year in a row that the House passed this amendment by a wide margin, giving hope to many that the practice of secrecy at the SOA/WHINSEC would finally end this year.
Today the House of Representatives approved the conference report that includes the amendment language, but not in the exact form that was passed by the House.
The new language requires that the Secretary of Defense release the names of students and instructors but with two clarifications: names are only released for FY 2009 and FY 2010, and the Secretary of Defense can waive this provision should it be deemed to be in the national interest.
While the release of names for FY 2009 and FY 2010 is a welcome first step, the decision by the conference committee to maintain secrecy about who has attended the SOA/ WHINSEC for the past 4 years raises a red flag about what the Pentagon may be hiding. From FY 2005 to FY 2008, hundreds of serious human rights crimes, including the San José de Apartadó massacre among many others, implicated Latin American military officials throughout the region. The gap in knowledge about what role U.S. military training played in the practices of Latin American militaries for 4 years undermines the pursuit of a just foreign policy by denying the public and Congress the very information they need to make important foreign policy decisions.
In addition, the waiver granted to the Pentagon to deny the release of this vital information in the name of national interest ignores the many reasons why it is in the national interest for public disclosure of SOA/ WHINSEC graduates and instructors. What could be more of a national interest than human rights, democracy and transparency?!
SOA Watch is hopeful that in the next few weeks human rights advocates will receive the names of SOA/ WHINSEC attendees and begin the important human rights oversight work of the school that has been missing for the past 4 years.
In the next few weeks, SOA Watch will continue to press forward on a number of legislative campaigns, so watch for our alerts with new information that you and your local group can take action on.