Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Regarding "School of the Americas: A Black Eye to Democracy"

In response to Eliana Monteforte's recently published piece on the School of the America's, Lee Rials of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, engages in a "point-by-point refutation" of the artilce and challenges COHA to prove him wrong.

Mr. Birns,

You should have known I couldn't resist commenting on this magnificent work of fiction, but I am truly surprised that you can call it 'analysis.'

I'll just do a tedious point-by-point refutation, and challenge you to prove me wrong on any point. This kind of absurdity reminds me of the Flat Earth Society, clinging to beliefs long proven wrong.

The institute was established in law, which means the Congress had to pass the bill and President Clinton had to sign it to make it the law of the land. You can call it a public relations stunt, but that belittles the Congress, not the military, and I could characterize it just as validly as a determination by a majority in Congress to see similar military education, training, and cooperation continue when it might have been lost altogether if the SOA had been allowed to remain in operation. The opponents were just as dishonest then as now, completely disregarding what the school actually did in favor of blaming it for the acts of a few who had attended some course there.

Note that while the Army started courses in Panama in 1946, only US soldiers attended until 1948, which indicates the original purpose was simply part of the normal continuing education our soldiers enjoy. If you look at the titles of courses throughout, you will see a great variety of professional education, very little of it 'counterinsurgency techniques, etc., and absolutely none of it 'interrogation tactics.' It is not surprising that in recent years most of the students in most courses have been from Colombia, because Plan Colombia gives them more resources to buy training.

I would like to know where it has been 'revealed' that torture techniques and coup procedures had 'become part of the curriculum.' That is a flat falsehood with no basis. And please tell me just one person who can be shown to have used what he learned from the school to commit a crime. No one else has, you can be the first. And tell me what Roberto D'Aubisson's planning of the murder of the archbishop had to do with his learning how to use military radios and telephones in 1972? Have you ever read that 93 UN Truth Commission Report? It points out crimes and makes determination of individual responsibilities in a number of incidents. Not once does it refer to any previous schooling or experience of the individuals. It
follows our own standards and holds individuals responsible for their own acts. If you follow that logic, then you can blame instructors at the school--if you can show that they taught anything illegal, immoral or unethical. Good luck.

Maybe your writer would like to inform me how an Engineer Operations Course in 1949 when Leopoldo Galtieri was a 23-year-old lieutenant in the Argentine Army led him to be a junta leader 30+ years later? And that UN report talks about the murder of the Jesuit priests and mentions about 29 people involved, although only seven were directly part of the act, the rest either knew about it and did nothing, or helped cover it up later. Several had attended some course or courses at SOA, at different times and different courses, apparently totally irrelevant to the crime. SOAW is not a 'human rights initiative,' but a political action group with a fraudulent agenda, and the primary fraud is against those sincere people who want to do good in the world, yet are diverted from any worthwhile activity to protest. Perhaps most egregious is getting people to trespass onto Fort Benning for no purpose except to garner publicity for the organization.

I will offer a challenge to this ridiculous contention that 'students undoubtedly will continue to march away from the institution having learned the wrong kind of skills.' Just name one of those 'wrong kind of skills.' Is it perhaps the counterdrug techniques taught to military and police? or maybe the medical assistance course that gives medics the ability to save lives and even deliver babies? or are you referring to the Peace Operations classes that give students the ability to function in the multinational forces in UN peacekeeping missions? (I don't think it a coincidence that Latin American countries are contributing almost 6500 soldiers and police to all 15 of the current UN missions around the world.)

Again, the institute is a separate organization from the SOA by law, and thus has no responsibility for acts by its predecessor or any other organization. And the reason we talk about the democracy and human rights component of every course is that the Congress mandated that education. You might be interested to know that Amnesty International, in the publication, "Unmatched Power, Unmet Principles," called our human rights program a 'model' for other military education facilities. Ten percent of the content of every course is devoted to due process, the rule of law, human rights law, the role of the military in a democratic society, and civilian control
of the military. And take a look around; every country in the OAS has a democratically elected government.

There has been no money allocated to 'tracking' former students, and no institution private or government has the ability to 'track' former students. Can you imagine the uproar in this country if you told people they had to report to their schools whereever they went and whatever they did after they left that school? This is a ruse to attack the institute. Our responsibility is to provide legal, moral, ethical education and training. You can read the six DoD reports on the institute, and the five Board of Visitors reports that are on the federal committee database to see
that we are doing exactly that.

This paragraph headed "The Terrorism Factor" is an almost-unreadable incoherency. This is the least militarized and most peaceful hemisphere in the world today; and now you want to blame the institute if people in Latin America terrorize their own people?

The final paragraph is the exact reverse of the truth. One of the central themes of our democracy and human rights instruction, and one of the specific requirements from Congress for every course, is civilian control of the military.

I can't say any more. This is the most blatant ideological rant masquerading as 'research' I have ever seen. The last time we exchanged emails, you said I won that time. Well, this doesn't feel like winning, because I don't see an honest effort to get at the truth.

Why don't you, or one of your researchers, come down to the institute and stay for a few days. You will be free to see all our facilities, talk with students and faculty, look at our instructional materials and methods. It is easy; all Fort Benning requires is a photo ID. A couple of years ago, a British doctoral candidate stayed in Columbus for a month, and came out here at least 20 days during that time. I won't have time to 'escort' you all the time, but you probably wouldn't want that anyway.


Lee A. Rials
Public Affairs Officer
Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation

1 comment:

Josh said...

Mr. Rials,

Your cynical dismissal of allegations of serious misconduct by instructors and alumni of the SOA and WHINSEC are inappropriate and hardly reassuring to the public that our tax dollars are being used for good. As the funders of this institute, the American people have a right to better information and more transparency regarding who is admitted to the school, how they are selected, what they are taught, and how they use that training in their respective positions of authority.

As anyone who has worked in Latin America can tell you, training and education from US schools, institutes, or agencies is highly regarded on resumes. The institute does have a moral obligation to track the professional record of its graduates so it can accurately make or withhold recommendations based on their human rights record.

While claiming the WHINSEC to be a separate institution, not affiliated with the School of the Americas you continue to defend its actions and reputation. This at least implies a close connection between the two institutions and invites criticism of one to be directed at the other. Instead of directly refuting the claims of the article, you offer a cynical "you can't prove it" attitude. This is the same attitude espoused by the ARENA government in El Salvador while refusing to make available relevant documents pertaining to investigations of human rights abuses throughout the 1980s.

If the WHINSEC is as devoted to the values of human rights, civilian control of military, and transparency as you claim, the insitute should at least do the following three things. 1) Make the lists of alumni and what courses they were taught public information so independent groups can themselves verify your claims that most graduates are defenders of democracy and human rights. 2) Make public denunciations of human rights abuses made by alumni to send a clear message that the school does not condone their actions. 3) If human rights and civilian rule are central to the instruction at the school, classes should be jointly facilitated by military instructors and civilian experts in human rights.

We are all losers in an environment where dissent is disrespected and secrecy maintained.