Headquarters for the renamed School of the Americas, this is where the U.S. Army trains soldiers from Latin American nations in combat, counter-insurgency, and anti-drug trafficking techniques. However, many graduates have put their new skills to use in some of the worst human rights abuses in recent years.
The U.S. Army’s School of the Americas (SOA) was established in 1963 to combat the spread of communism in Latin America. To do so, it trained combat soldiers and military officers from Latin American nations in such useful skills as guerrilla combat techniques, counterinsurgency methods, and anti-narcotics operations. Among its more than 60,000 graduates were such distinguished alumni as Manuel Noriega and OmarTorrijos of Panama, Leopoldo Galtieri and Roberto Viola of Argentina, Juan Velasco Alvarado of Peru, Guillermo Rodriguez of Ecuador, and Hugo Banzer Suarez of Bolivia. Perhaps a bit embarrassed to have trained some of the worst dictators in Latin American history, the SOA “closed” on January 17, 2001 and was “replaced” by the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation. The Institute is merely the old School of the Americas with a new name; it uses the same facilities and trainers as the School of the Americas and offers the same basic courses, although there have been some new classes on human rights added in response to Congressional pressure. All students at the “new” Institute will be required to have eight hours of classroom instruction in basic human rights.
Fort Benning Florida Map Photo Gallery
However, it was more than just famous dictators that gave the School of the Americas such a bad reputation. There have been numerous incidents in which soldiers, fresh from their training at the School, have returned home and committed some of the worst human rights violations in this hemisphere, from El Salvador to Paraguay to Haiti to Mexico. Many of these abuses occurred in counter-insurgency operations and often involved killing of unarmed civilians, torture of suspects, and rape. Numerous SOA graduates have also been linked to the drug trade, where their military skills have been put to use against their competitors. It was for this reason that SOA became known as the “school of the assassins” by its critics.
What’s There: The School of the Americas/Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation is a small part of Fort Benning, which is the headquarters of the U.S. Army infantry and also used for basic training and paratrooper jump school.
Among the classes offered at the Institute are advanced combat arms, psychological operations, intelligence-gathering, and commando tactics.
Key Facilities: The main facility used by the Institute/SOA is Ridgway Hall. This building includes classrooms, office space, and related training facilities. Additional training, such as in commando operations, is conducted elsewhere at Fort Benning.
The John B. Amos Library holds 21,000 volumes, over 90% of which are in Spanish, many on the subjects taught here. While you have to be associated with the Institute to check out materials, everyone was allowed to use the library prior to the September 11 attacks (local high school students studying Spanish often dropped by to read newspapers and magazines from Latin American nations). The library is in room 257 of Ridgway Hall.
Secret Stuff: So what were the textbooks like at the old School of the Americas? Here is an excerpt from one titled Handling of Sources. It was used in an intelligence-gathering course, and was originally classified as “SECRET.” It was declassified by the Secretary of the Army in 1996.
The following section dealt with the tricky problem of how to “fire” a paid informant who might then, out of anger, compromise the intelligence operation. In particular, note technique 4) below:
There are many techniques that could be used to force an employee to accept the separation or to neutralize him to such a degree that he does not constitute a threat to the intelli-
Gence effort of the government. Some of the suggested techniques are shown below:
1) Must use the fact that his pay has been exempt of taxes. Depending on the urgency of getting rid of the employee, he could be threatened of being revealed or exposed. Naturally you do not appear as the accuser of taxes. A more subtle means is by means of an anonymous tip to tax authorities that the employee has a source of income that has not been declared. They will investigate the employee and that will achieve his fall. The agent must not meddle in this investigation, even though he must coordinate with them.
2) Another method that could be used, if the employee is receiving illegally goods as compensation, such as foreign cigarettes, liquor or coffee, the agent informs secretly the custom authorities just after the employee receives his goods.
3) In inducing the employee to commit an illegal act for which he could be held responsible could prove effective, especially if the agent can maintain control of the situation in such a way that he could use it as a lever to obtain control of the individual.
4) If the insurrection advances to last phases and the guerrillas dominate certain areas that create borders, there is a series of things that could be done, especially if the main thing is to get rid of him and it is not important if he talks with the guerrillas or not. Changing his identification in a way that he could not pass verifications by the guerrilla security elements, sending him on a especially dangerous mission for which he has been inadequately prepared, or pass information to guerrilla security elements are methods that could be used.
Getting a Look Inside: As part of the Institute’s effort to be more open than the old SOA, visitors were actually encouraged prior to the September 11 attacks. Exact hours of admittance varied, but were usually during normal working hours on weekdays. The main entrance to Fort Benning will be able to give more information about current visiting procedures.
School of the Americas, Fort Benning
Unusual Facts: The new slogan used by the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation is “building a better future with our democratic neighbors.” They also plan to offer courses via the Internet in the near future.
Getting There: Fort Benning is located ten miles south of Columbus at the end of Interstate 1-185. Turn right at the stop light, and then left at the welcome center.
Roads to Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation/ School ot the Americas, Fort Benning