United States Army School of the Americas:
Background and Congressional Concerns
Richard F. Grimmett
Specialist in National Defense
Mark P. Sullivan
Specialist in Latin American Affairs
Foreign Affairs and National Defense Division
This report provides background information on the School of the Americas,
a U.S. Army training facility, largely for Spanish-speaking Latin American
cadets and officers, located at Fort Benning, Georgia. It reviews the history and
background of the School, discusses its missions, and examines several
controversies that have developed in recent years. These include concerns about
the School's graduates who have been implicated in human rights violations and
the adequacy of human rights training at the School. Questions over continued
funding of the School of the Americas were raised in Congress in 1993 and will
likely be raised again in 1994. On September 30, 1993, the House rejected an
amendment to the FY1994 Defense Appropriations measure (P.L. 103-139, H.R.
3116) that would have cut $2.9 million from the Army's operation and
maintenance account, an amount equal to the amount in the account dedicated
to running the School. In 1994, further legislative attempts to close the School
may again target the Army's operation and maintenance account as well as
another funding source for the School -- International Military Education and
Training (IMET) program funds -- provided through foreign assistance
The School of the Americas was originally established in 1946 in the U.S.-
controlled Panama Canal Zone as the Latin American Center--Ground Division.
In July 1963, the school acquired its current name, and Spanish became its
official language. On September 21, 1984, the school suspended operations in
compliance with the terms of the 1977 Panama Canal Treaty. In December 1984,
1 All background facts and data were taken from materials provided by the Department of the
Army, Public Affairs, and the United States Army School of the Americas. The staff and faculty
figure represents total as of March 3, 1994.
the school reopened at Fort Benning, Georgia, as part of the U.S. Army Training
and Doctrine Command. All elements of the School of the Americas are located
at Fort Benning with the exception of the Helicopter School Battalion which is
located at Fort Rucker, Alabama. Since 1946, more than 57,700 officers, cadets,
and non-commissioned officers from Latin America and the United States have
been trained at the School of the Americas. The School's staff and faculty--
comprised of 308 civilian and multi-service military personnel-prepare, support
and present 34 different courses in Spanish to students representing 16 nations.
The School of the Americas teaches a variety of courses relating to U.S.
Army doctrine, from basic patrolling techniques to the Command and General
Staff Course (CGSC). The School of the Americas is charged by P.L. 100-180 (10
USC 4415) with the mission of developing and conducting instruction for the
armed forces of Latin America, using the most doctrinally sound, relevant, and
cost-effective training programs possible. The law stipulates that the School will
promote military professionalism, foster cooperation among the multinational
military forces in Latin America, and expand Latin American armed forces'
knowledge of United States customs and traditions.
The school is organized to provide principal training elements-joint and
combined operations, special operations and civil military operations,
noncommissioned officer professional development, and resource management.
Two academic departments present all instruction, except the Instructor
Training Course. The Helicopter School Battalion (HSB) at Fort Rucker,
Alabama provides initial and advanced helicopter flight instruction in Spanish.
Additional helicopter maintenance instruction is provided at Fort Eustis,
Virginia. The 47-week Command and General Staff Course, taught by the
Department of Joint and Combined Operations, is attended by students from
Latin America and the United States. Since 1955 over 1,100 students have
graduated from the CGSC. Training programs to deal with insurgency threats
were developed for students in the 1960s and programs aimed at contending
with narco-terrorism in the 1980s.
Human rights training is part of the program of the School of the Americas.
The majority of the students who attend the School are funded by International
Military Education and Training (IMET) program funds, provided through
foreign assistance legislation. Since 1978, Congress has directed that education
and training conducted under MET would be designed to "increase the
awareness of nationals of foreign countries participating in such activities of
basic issues involving internationally recognized human rights." In 1990,
Congress established an expanded IMET program which earmarked a portion of
IMET funds to be used for "developing, initiating, conducting and evaluating
courses" for training "foreign and civilian officials" in the creation and
maintenance of "effective military judicial systems and military codes of conduct,
including the observance of internationally recognized human rights."
Prior to 1989, the School of the Americas provided human rights training
both formally--in classroom instruction on the Laws of Land Warfare--and
informally--through exposure to American institutions. Since 1989, the School
has established a policy on human rights training and revised its curriculum to
integrate human rights training into every course taught. A total of nearly
1,000 hours of such instruction is reportedly interwoven into the curriculum and
consists of four specific components: human rights, military justice, civilian
control of the military, and democratization.
The School of the Americas budget for FY1994 totals $4.475 million from
two sources. The School's fixed budget comes from Operations and Maintenance,
Army (OMA) which is provided through the Defense Department's authorization
and appropriations legislation. In FY1994, the School's OMA funding level is
$2.908 million. The OMA funding pays for all of the School's overhead costs,
including civilian pay, guest instructor programs costs, supplies and equipment,
certain travel expenses, and contracts. About 90 percent of OMA funds are spent
on civilian pay and the guest instructor program. The other funding source for
the School is reimbursable funds granted to Latin American countries under the
United States Foreign Military Sales (FMS), International Military Education
and Training (IMET), and International Narcotics Matters (INM) programs.
These funds pay for the actual costs of student training. In FY1994 the total
funds the School will receive from these sources is $1.567 million.
CONGRESSIONAL CONCERNS AND LEGISLATIVE ACTION
Questions over continued funding of the School of the Americas were raised
in Congress in 1993 and will likely be raised again in 1994. On September 30,
1993, the House rejected, by a vote of 174-256, an amendment to the FY1994
Defense Appropriations measure (P.L. 103-139, H.R. 3116) offered by
Representative Joseph P. Kennedy II that would have cut 2.9 million from the
Army's operation and maintenance account. The amount reduced would have
been equal to the amount dedicated to running the School, and the intent of the
amendment, according to the sponsor, was to close the School. If the amendment had been
approved, however, the School would not necessarily have been closed because the amendment
did not preclude the Army from utilizing other monies in its operations and maintenance account
for the School. The amendment also would not have affected the School's funding received from
FMS, IMET, and INM programs provided for in foreign assistance legislation.
Human Rights Violations. As reflected in the 1993 debate, most
concerns about the School have centered on graduates who have been implicated
in--or are alleged to be responsible for-human rights violations in their
countries. According to critics, the School has a history and tradition of abusive
graduates who violate human rights. Observers point out that School alumni
include: 48 out of 69 Salvadoran military members cited in the U.N. Truth
Commission's report on El Salvador for involvement in human rights violations
(including 19 of 27 military members implicated in the 1989 murder of six Jesuit
priests), 2 and more than 100 Colombian military officers alleged to be
responsible for human rights violations by a 1992 report issued by several
2 The U.N. Truth Commission Report on El Salvador and the U.S. Army School of the
Americas. Washington Office on Latin America. August 27, 1993.
human rights organizations. 3 Press reports have also alleged that school
graduates have included several Peruvian military officers linked to the July
1992 killings of nine students and a professor from La Cantuta University, and
included several Honduran officers linked to a clandestine military force known
as Battalion 316 responsible for disappearances in the early 1980s. 4 Critics of
the School maintain that soldiers who are chosen to attend are not properly
screened, with the result that some students and instructors have attended the
School after being implicated in human rights violations.
Supporters of the School maintain that those graduates who have
committed human rights violations did not commit the violence because of their
training at Fort Benning, but rather in spite of it. They maintain that only a
small number out of a total of almost 58,000 School graduates have been
accused of human rights violations. In many Latin American countries, military
service is traditionally an avenue to political and economic leadership and
supporters of the School contend that the opportunity to train thousands of
Latin American military officials on U.S. human rights processes and
international human rights has a significant potential for bringing about greater
respect for human rights in Latin America. Acknowledging the past abuses of
some graduates, some School supporters have recommended a stricter set of
criteria for student selection along with restrictions for countries with a high
percentage of students later convicted of human rights violations. The
Department of the Army maintains that the United States--through the
Department of State--actively and continuously screens potential candidates for
training for any record of human rights abuse, criminal activity, or corruption.
Human Rights Training. Supporters of the School point out that since
1989 the School has begun to emphasize human rights training throughout its
curriculum (see Background), making it unique among U.S. Army schools.
They indicate that the School has also begun to include courses which meet
"expanded IMET" objectives. School supporters maintain that, for many Latin
American soldiers, the School is the only training they will receive in human
rights, and that the School provides a unique setting to influence Latin
American militaries on the importance of respecting human rights. According
to Major Michael Travaglione, a former chaplain for the School who took part
in many of the "practical exercises" involving human rights training, the human
rights message is getting across to the students. 5
Critics of the School maintain that it only pays lip service to human rights
training for its students. They maintain that a few hours of human rights
3 See: Waller, Douglas. Running a "School for Dictators." Newsweek. August 9, 1998, p. 86; The
1992 human rights report referred to was El Terrismo de Estado en Colombia. Brusels,
Ediciones NCOS, 1992. The report cited 247 military personnel alleged to have some involvement
in human rights violations in Colombia.
4 Waller, p. 36.
5 McCarthy, Tim. School Aims at Military ControL National Catholic Reporter. April 8, 1994.
training will not make a difference, and assert that there is a hostile attitude
among the students regarding the mandatory human rights training. A former
School logistics instructor, retired Army Major Joseph Blair, maintains that the
human rights message is not taken seriously by the Latin American students
and contends that the soldiers associate human rights with subversives. 6 A
guest human rights lecturer at the School believes that the School's changes in
its human rights curriculum is nothing more than a facelift, and asserts that
"much of the training at the School is done by officers from Latin American
militaries, which have strongly resisted increased civilian control and
accountability." 7 Some critics maintain that the Latin American students are
somewhat isolated at the School of the Americas facility, with courses held
entirely in Spanish and many taught by Latin American instructors. To break
this isolation, critics have recommended that the students be trained at other
U.S. facilities where there is more contact with U.S. soldiers and where training
is conducted in English only by U.S. instructors.
School for Dictators? Critics have labeled the School of the Americas a
"school for dictators." The ten former Latin American heads of state who
attended the School of the Americas include General Manuel Antonio Noriega
of Panama, military ruler from 1983 until his ouster from power by U.S. forces
in December 1989. In 1992, Noriega was convicted and sentenced in a U.S.
Federal court to 40 years in prison on drug trafficking charges, while
subsequently he was sentenced in Panama for the 1985 murder of a Panamanian
opposition leader and for the October 1989 murder of a Panamanian military
officer who led an unsuccessful coup against him. Another Panamanian leader
who attended the School of the Americas is General Omar Torrijos who emerged
as Panama's de facto political leader after the National Guard overthrew the
elected civilian government of Arnulfo Arias in 1968, and ruled either as official
head of government or de facto political leader until his death in a plane crash
in 1981. While many observers would label Torrijos a populist leader, others
criticize the general for his repression of opposition sectors.
Two additional School alumni who overthrew elected civilian governments
are Major General Guillermo Rodriguez (1972-76), who overthrew Ecuadorian
President Jose Maria Velasco Ibarra, and Major General Juan Velasco Alvarado
(1968-1975), who overthrew Peruvian President Fernando Belaunde Terry.
Breaking with the pattern of previous military leaders in these two countries,
Rodriguez and Alvarado initiated extensive periods of direct military rule, seven
years in Ecuador and twelve years in Peru.
The six remaining Latin American military rulers who attended the School
of the Americas consist of two each from Argentina, Bolivia, and Honduras, all
of whom succeeded military rulers. In Argentina, Lieutenant General Roberto
Viola led a short-lived military government from March to December 1981, but
was ousted because of his failure to contain a rapidly deteriorating economy.
6 Ibid. p. 11.
7 Call, Charles T. Academy of Torture. Miami Herald. August 9, 1993.
After Argentina's return to democracy, Viola was convicted and sentenced to 17
years in prison for criminal responsibility for human rights violations during
Argentina's so-called "dirty-war against subversion" in the 1970s. 8 Viola was
succeeded by Lieutenant General Leopoldo Galtieri, another School graduate,
who ruled from December 1981 until June 1982. Galtieri led Argentina during
the unsuccessful war with Britain over the Falkland Islands.
In Bolivia, General Hugo Banzer Suarez led a bloody coup in 1971
overthrowing military leader General Juan Jose Torres. According to many
observers, Banzer's rule until 1978--referred to as the Banzerato--was
repressive, with labor leaders and leftist politicians exiled, jailed, and killed. 9
The Banzerato was characterized by relative political stability, however, with
initial support from the country's major political party, the Nationalist
Revolutionary Movement (MNR). In contrast to Banzer, another School
graduate from Bolivia, Major General Guido Vildoso Calderon, ruled from July
to October 1982 and had been chosen by the Bolivian military to return the
country to civilian democratic rule.
In Honduras, School of the Americas graduate Brigadier General Juan
Melgar Castro became president in 1975 when the military command ousted
General Oswaldo Lopez Arellano from power. Melgar Castro in turn was ousted
in 1978 by the military high command and was replaced by School of the
Americas alum Policarpo Paz Garcia who returned Honduras to civilian
democratic rule in 1982, albeit with substantial pressure from the United States.
Supporters of the School point out that Latin America is now more
democratic and less militaristic than at any time since the Second World War;
they contend that most of the cited military leaders were in power more than
a decade ago and that the current record demonstrates that most militaries
throughout Latin America now support civilian democratic rule and defend
civilian governments from coup attempts. They argue that two of the military
leaders discussed above were responsible for transferring power back to civilian
democratic rule. Supporters of the School contend that democracy is being
respected throughout the region with only a few exceptions and that the School
of the Americas has played a key role in the resurgence and defense of
democracy in Latin America.
8 Sentences Handed Down in Trial of Former Leaders. Foreign Broadcast Information Service.
Daily Report--Latin America. December 10, 1985. p. Bl.
9 Gamarra, Eduardo A. and James M. Malloy. "Bolivia: Revolution and Reaction," in Latin
American Politics and Development, Howard J. Wiarda and Harvey F. Kline eds. Boulder, CO:
Westview Press, 1990. p. 369