Help Ensure that the U.S. Military Does Not Train Human Rights Abusers!

Updated 20 June 2002


As part of the war on terror, the U.S. government plans to increase its training of foreign militaries. Congress and the public have a right to know who is being trained by the U.S. military and for what purpose. The joint Defense and State Department Foreign Military Training Report, currently required by Congress, annually informs the public of these activities. However the usefulness of this report is currently being questioned by some Members of Congress, who see the reporting requirement as simply more work for the Administration. Government accountability, and ultimately democracy, rely on transparency in such government operations as military training of foreign forces.


Please write to your Members of Congress, asking them for information regarding U.S. training of foreign militaries. To make letter writing easier, please use our sample letter, posted on the Friends Committee on National Legislation Legislative Action Center website. Because of the nature of this particular action, please take time to PERSONALIZE your letter. In the sample letter you will see a list of five questions. You can pick out several of these, or you can create your own. It may be helpful to ask about a specific country, such as Colombia, Indonesia, or Nigeria. If your Member of Congress has shown interest in a certain area of the world, try asking about countries in that region.


In a speech commemorating the six-month anniversary of the September 11th attacks, President Bush outlined his plans for the next stage of the "war on terrorism." The President remarked: "I have set a clear policy in the second stage of the war on terror. America encourages and expects governments everywhere to help remove the terrorist parasites that threaten their own countries and peace of the world. If governments need training, or resources to meet this commitment, America will help." This statement clearly announced the U.S. strategy to increase or establish new military relationships through training and equipping foreign militaries.

Already, the U.S. trains nearly 40,000 non-NATO military personnel each year, both in their own countries and at over 100 facilities on U.S. soil. In the Western Hemisphere, this includes every military except Cuba. Training provided to foreign militaries can range from English language education to teaching interrogation techniques; from instruction in weapon repair to coaching commando skills. The vast majority of these programs, however, include little or no human rights education. (The one notable exception is the former School of the Americas -renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation- which, due to activist pressure now includes a mandatory eight hours of human rights instruction, out of four weeks of instruction).

The Department of Defense runs some U.S. military training programs with virtually no oversight, and in several instances, these programs have undermined the stated will of Congress. For example, in 1992 Congress imposed a ban on training the Indonesian military through the International Military Education and Training account because of concern about Indonesia's poor human rights record. However, the Department of Defense continued training Indonesian forces, using funds out of another account. Congress did not discover the continued training until 1998.

Current U.S. law prohibits the training of foreign military units that have been involved in human rights abuses. To ensure that this law is observed, and ensure that situations such as what happened with Indonesia do not happen again, the administration must release as much information as possible about who is being trained, in what subjects, where, and by whom. The Foreign Military Training Report currently provides much of this information, but the government often classifies the important details. We must educate Members of Congress and their staff about the report to ensure that the report will remain accessible and become even more transparent.

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