WASHINGTON - APRIL 25 - Torture, foreign military training and Pentagon accountability are on the agenda of grassroots human rights advocates from around the United States currently in Washington, DC to lobby Congress in support of a bill that would suspend training and investigate the notorious School of the Americas (SOA/WHINSEC), a military training facility for Latin American security personnel located at Fort Benning, Georgia.
Constituents from hundreds of Congressional districts continue lobbying efforts today as part of an organized effort by School of the Americas Watch. Yesterday the human rights advocates began a day of meetings with Representatives with a procession and spirited rally in Upper Senate Park.
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. 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.
Congress has debated several times since then whether to cut off funding for the institution, and is set to decide the fate of the school soon. Legislation introduced last year by Rep. McGovern (D-MA), HR 1217, would suspend activities at the SOA/WHINSEC and call for a review of foreign military training in Latin America. The bill has the support of Budget Committee Chairman Jim Nussle (R-Iowa) and Science Committee Chairman Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) and more than 120 other bi-partisan co-sponsors.
Among those meeting with Representatives this week is Carlos Mauricio, a torture survivor who was kidnapped and tortured for two weeks in 1983 in El Salvador.
“Like many of its graduates, this school continues to operate with impunity,” said Mauricio. “The U.S. is losing credibility with many of our neighbors. Shutting down the SOA once and for all would send a strong message of support for human rights to Latin America and the world.”