With United States military training programs expanding at an unprecedented rate, Congress is failing to assert its oversight responsibility, according to a report released Tuesday by Foreign Policy in Focus, a Washington-based think tank.
While the administration of President George W. Bush insists that trainees are given instruction in human rights and civilian control of the military, "most of the programs have had no discernible focus on human rights and have been carried out in a highly, if not completely unaccountable manner," according to the report, 'U.S. Foreign Military Training: Global Reach, Global Power.'
In a pending emergency supplemental appropriations requests, the Bush administration is pushing for more than $1 billion in new military aid and training, including $100 million that the defense department could dispense secretly without any congressional scrutiny and without regard to existing human rights conditions on military aid.
The administration is also taking other steps to make it more difficult for Congress and the public to monitor its training operations by, for example, delaying the release of the congressionally mandated 'Foreign Military Training Report,' the only comprehensive public account of its global training programs. It has also asked Congress to reduce the amount of information which is supposed to be provided in the report.
Washington has provided military training to foreign armed forces since the onset of the Cold War in the late 1940s. Those programs expanded dramatically during the counter-insurgency era of the 1960s and were then reduced somewhat in the wake of revelations in the mid-1970s both about abuses committed by recipients of U.S. training and by some of the tactics taught by trainers, particularly in Latin America.
Training programs increased again under the Reagan administration and still more in the post-Cold War period when they were justified mainly as part of the war against drugs or to promote peacekeeping capabilities of foreign forces. Since 1994, funding for the best-known and most closely monitored of these programs, the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program, has increased fourfold.
More than 150 agencies in the U.S. and abroad are currently involved in training some 100,000 foreign troops each year, with the U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF) alone conducting training exercises, often under a shroud of secrecy, in more than 100 countries.
Following the September 11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon, the administration has offered police or military training to a growing list of countries--including Azerbaijan, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Yemen, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Colombia--as part of its war on terrorism, according to the report. Many of these governments have extensive records of serious human rights violations, including torture and summary execution, the report said.
Senior U.S. officials, including defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, have said they also want to carry out new training programs for Indonesia, whose armed forces were responsible for devastating East Timor in 1999 and are accused by independent human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch of serious ongoing abuses in Aceh, West Papua/Irian Jaya, and other parts of the country.
"The September 11 attacks have become the justification for a sweeping disregard for human rights and democratization concerns," the 56-page report concludes, noting that Washington risks making many of the same mistakes as it did in the Cold War when, by backing abusive armed forces, it helped plant the seeds for future problems.
"If in this current effort U.S. forces intervene and provide training in support of regimes repressing legitimate political activism and/or using torture or coercion to maintain power, they are likely to foster, rather than diminish, political violence around the globe," the report warned, adding that this is an important reason for Congress to pay much closer attention than it has to date.
Special scrutiny should be directed at the widespread training deployments of the SOF whose unconventional warfare tactics have gained new prominence in light of the role they played in Afghanistan and their recent deployments to the Philippines, Yemen, and Georgia, the report urged.
It also pointed out that the SOF have trained some of the most abusive forces of the past 20 years, including a combat battalion in El Salvador that was responsible for the worst massacre of the civil war, as well as the assassinations of six Jesuit priests in 1989 and Kopassus units in Indonesia which were considered the most brutal forces under former President Suharto.
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