WASHINGTON - June 8 - Congress is expected to vote today on an amendment to the Foreign Operations Appropriations bill that would cut funding to the notorious Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, formerly known as the School of the Americas (SOA/WHINSEC). The amendment will be offered by Reps. Jim McGovern (D-MA) and John Lewis (D- GA).
"Today Congress is presented with a crucial opportunity to send a message of support for human rights to not only Latin America, but the world," said Rev. Roy Bourgeois, a Maryknoll priest and founder of School of the Americas Watch (SOA Watch), the grassroots organization dedicated to researching the SOA/WHINSEC and educating the public about the school.
Citing concerns about torture, foreign military training and Pentagon accountability, constituents from hundreds of Congressional districts traveled to Capitol Hill in April to participate in lobbying efforts to cut funding to the School of the Americas, a military training facility for Latin American security personnel located at Fort Benning, Georgia. As a result of constituent support, 133 bipartisan members of the House co- sponsor HR 1217, legislation that would suspend operations at WHINSEC.
Support for the School of the Americas, now called the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, continues to erode. In March, two South American countries sent a strong message of support for human rights and military accountability by ceasing all military training of their troops at the controversial U.S. Army's School of the Americas. Citing concerns around the image of the institution in Latin America, Argentina and Uruguay announced that they would no longer send soldiers to train at the military school based at Fort Benning.
The SOA/ WHINSEC catapulted into the headlines in 1996 when the Pentagon released training manuals used at the school that advocated torture, extortion and execution. Despite this shocking admission and hundreds of documented human rights abuses connected to soldiers trained at the school, no independent investigation into the training facility has ever taken place.
Since 1996, Congress has debated several times whether to cut funding for the institution. The amendment that will be offered to HR 5522, the Foreign Operations, Export Financing, and Related Programs Appropriations Act for Fiscal Year 2007, has broad bipartisan support. A close vote is expected.