In September 1996, the Pentagon released seven training manuals used at the U.S. Army School of Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia. These seven manuals, which taught murder, torture, and extortion, were used to teach courses at the U.S. Army School of the Americas during the 1980s despite explicit U.S. army policy.
This is not the first time that training manuals advocating brutal training methods were used in Central America. Nor is this the first time that U.S. army policy was ignored. In fact, the torture manuals discovered at the U.S. Army School of the Americas (USARSA) represents just one piece of a much larger problem: somehow in the vast and powerful military bureaucracy the message was delivered repeatedly from the upper echelons of power that the rules don't matter.
The 1983 Honduran Interrogation Manual, the 1984 Contra Manual, and the seven USARSA training manuals, are all examples of such training material. One might imagine that the discovery of just one of the manuals would prompt significant changes in the intelligence community. Based on research conducted by this office, the opposite appears to be true.
In 1984, the CIA Contra Manual -- which counseled the proper way to kill inside Nicaragua -- was made public. The White House promised that those who developed and approved the manuals would be held responsible and dismissed. No such action was taken.
In 1988 the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence held secret hearings on a 1983 Interrogation Manual, which detailed torture methods used against subversives in Latin America. A declassified 1989 report prepared for the Senate Select Committee says the 1983 manual was developed from notes of a CIA interrogation course in Honduras.
At the 1988 Senate hearing, then-Senator Cohen, now Secretary of Defense, made a key point. He stated:
I am not sure...upon [the 1983 Manual's discovery], why we only sought to revise it and to revise it in a fashion which says these are some of the techniques we think are abhorrent.... There's a lot in this that troubles me in terms of whether you are sending subliminal signals that say this is improper, but by the way, you ought to be aware of it.1
Once again, no one was held responsible for the production or distribution of the Interrogation Manual. And last week, the Inspector General indicated that no one will be held accountable for the production or distribution of the seven training manuals discovered at the U.S. Army School of the Americas. Once again, it would appear that the upper echelons of power are sending conflicting signals.
The contents of the training manuals, which taught murder, torture, and extortion, were discovered by the Pentagon in 1991. At that time, a full-scale investigation was launched into the development and use of the training materials. On September 30, 1996, the Inspector General (IG), Department of Defense was tasked to review the 1992 Department of Defense internal investigation of the manuals and review whether recommendations for safeguards had been implemented.
However, the Inspector General's report is inaccurate on some significant points:
Based on their review, the IG concluded that further investigation to assess individual responsibility is not required.2 Our conclusion is that accountability must be established in order to put a close on this chapter on U.S. policy, and to prevent this chapter from becoming a prologue to future events.
Continued operation of the School of the Americas stands as a barrier to establishing a new and constructive relationship with Latin American militaries after the Cold War. And it continues to associate the United States with the human rights abuses committed by its graduates.
Closing the School of the Americas will not end the important relationship between the U.S. and Latin American militaries. Each year the U.S. trains thousands of foreign soldiers by bringing them here to study alongside U.S. military personnel and by sending U.S. military trainers abroad.
We do not question the good values and the commitment of the U.S. personnel at the School today. But after examining the record of School of the America graduates we cannot help but conclude that the United States needs to make a fresh start, and make a clean break from this dark chapter.
1. Select Committee on Intelligence Hearing transcript, June 16, 1988, p. 34.
2. Policy and Oversight Report; Intelligence Operations Directorate, Office of the Inspector General, Department of Defense, p. 8.
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Information in this report is based on documentation and interviews. Staff conducted interviews with former and/or current military personnel, including those in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Department of the Army, the USSOUTHCOM, the U.S. Army Intelligence School, Fort Holabird, the U.S. Army Intelligence Center and School, Fort Huachuca, the U.S. Army School of the Americas, Fort Benning, and the 470th Military Brigade. Former U.S. Ambassadors were interviewed, as were representatives from the National Security Archives, the Military Archives, and the press.
All those who were interviewed and agreed to be identified in this report are identified. All individuals who were identified by a source, and confirmed by a second source, are also identified, even if they were not available or could not be reached for comment. Any individual who asked not to be identified is not named in this report.