The U.S. House of Representatives voted on Thursday, May 22 to make publicly available the names of the graduates and instructors at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), formerly known as the School of the Americas. Representatives McGovern (D-MA), Bishop (D-GA), and Sestak (D-PA) co-sponsored the amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 5658), which passed with a recorded vote of 220-189.
The amendment restores an important principle — that U.S. training of Latin American military officials ought to be done in the light of day, so that civil society in Latin America and the U.S. can look at who is being trained and who is doing the training. Until 2006, this information had been available to civil society; groups could simply ask officials at the school or, if necessary, file a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.
In 2006, this policy changed. Legislation classified the names of WHINSEC students and instructors for the first time in history. This was a step backwards. In response to widespread and continuing criticism of the WHINSEC program, the U.S. has long maintained that nothing secret or untoward went on at the Institute. Cloaking the program in secrecy and classifying the names of participants and instructors undercut this argument.
WOLA applauds Representative McGovern and Chairman Skelton for their work on this much needed amendment and fully supports any effort to promote transparency and accountability within the institution. WOLA has worked to promote such transparency initiatives on security training, and hopes to see similar initiatives for police training within the ILEA (International Law Enforcement Academy).
To read a WOLA memo on the ILEA, click here .
Geoff Thale, Program Director, [email protected], 202-797-2171