Where the FARC are being beaten – and where they aren’t Promoting peace, or breaking the law?
May 222008

(Note as of 11:30 PM: the amendment passed by a party-line vote of 220-189.)

The House of Representatives meets today to debate the 2009 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 5658). There will be debate about an amendment [PDF] that would require the Pentagon to make public, upon request, the names of Latin American military and police personnel who “graduate” from the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), the successor to the U.S. Army School of the Americas.

The amendment is being offered by Reps. Jim McGovern (D-Massachusetts), Sanford Bishop (D-Georgia) and Joe Sestak (D-Pennsylvania). There will be 20 minutes of debate.

Knowing the names of graduates would seem to be a basic ingredient for effective oversight of the WHINSEC, an institution that has long been controversial because of the very poor human rights records of many of its graduates. Freedom of Information Act requests for graduates’ names used to be approved routinely, which allowed the grassroots group School of the Americas Watch to construct a database of graduates.

Since 2006, however, these requests have been turned down – or, more insultingly, met with pages and pages of blacked-out names.

We are hearing reports that WHINSEC is defending this sudden opacity – and opposing the McGovern-Bishop-Sestak amendment – by arguing that groups like Colombia’s FARC could use this information to target Colombian military and police officers and their families.

This is a very poor argument for denying such basic information, for a few strong reasons.

1. The FARC doesn’t need a WHINSEC document to get the names of Colombian military officers. Those above the rank of major are easily obtained – these tend to be the commanders of battalions, brigades and other units. To get names of majors and captains (who head battalions, companies and similar units) might require the guerrillas to do a bit more research in local areas, but it is hard to believe that a FARC unit would not know the names of the key authorities at the nearest military or police facility.

Even more quickly, the FARC can simply get a comprehensive directory or database access by infiltrating or corrupting someone in the Defense Ministry, the Fiscalía, the Procuraduria, the Defensoría, the Interior Ministry or a similar agency. Colombia’s military weathered a big scandal last year about a female FARC member who infiltrated her way to the highest ranks of the military. There are likely other “infiltrados” with ready access to lists of Colombian officers.

2. The FARC, as well as other Colombian narcotrafficking organizations that target Colombian security forces, have been around for decades. In all that time, we’ve never heard of either using U.S. trainee lists to select targets.

3. If successful in the case of WHINSEC, this argument can be abused to roll back transparency on all sorts of military programs (recipient unit lists, arms-sale data, priority zones for U.S. assistance). Monitoring the impact of U.S. assistance – especially the human-rights impact – could become nearly impossible.

19 Responses to “WHINSEC transparency amendment today”

  1. Chris Says:

    Is WHINSEC responsible for the Human Rights records of its graduates.. is the thought that WHINSEC is promoting these atrocities? I don’t think so… I would rather believe that the problem is instrinsic to Colombia proper and its many problems. What I would agree with is if you said that WHINSEC failed to change the mindset of its graduates.

  2. Adam Isacson Says:

    A high incidence of graduates with human rights problems is a strong indicator that reform is necessary.

    There is much debate about whether the remedy should be “reform” or the school’s closure. There’s also debate about whether the reform that led the SOA to become WHINSEC was sufficient to address the problem.

    A key way to measure whether reforms have had an impact is to look at the subsequent records of graduates. You can’t do that if you don’t know who the graduates are.

  3. Camilla Says:

    Will you be the first to apologize, Adam, when FARC uses this list to kill someone? Philip Agee had a grand old time getting CIA officers killed by publishing their names. I know you are a peacenik and want to use any means necessary (as the 60s crowd likes to say) to dissuade anyone from being in the army instead of dodging the draft, but coercion and threats against servicemen’s lives isn’t the best way to do it. I think you are too quick to dismiss the potential for FARC to use the lists to kill people. No, it’s not as easy as you claim for FARC to get the lists of people they’d like to castrate, dismember, burn alive, and all those other wonderful things FARC ‘revolutionaries’ like to do for the revolution. Will you admit responsibility when the first chopped up soldier comes to the military cemetery? I doubt it. This bill was nothing but a disguised way to assist FARC in its aims. If it’s not you or your pal McGovern, it’ll be one of the freaks on the far left of the Code Pink grade that gladly gives the information to the FARC. I think it’s a bad move.

  4. Fandango Says:

    Adam – fair enough that it’s important to measure whether reforms have had an impact is to look at subsequent records … but that’s not enough. The hard thing is to find a way to compare them with those who did NOT go – that’s the only way to see the impact of the program. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that most of these folks would be better in terms of HR than someone who didn’t go, but the hard thing is to measure that.

    This isn’t an idle academic exercise – you can’t just say “well xx% of WHINSEC folks were linked to abuses” – you have to find a way to say that WHINSEC was an important intervening variable, or the names are meaningless. It’s hard, but challenging, to come up with a way to say “well, WHINSEC helped/hurt because without it, X or Y would have been different.” But the onus is on you (or on program proponents, for that matter) to say that the program has an effect, good or bad.

  5. Tambopaxi Says:


    Your posting implies that there’s a causative relationship between SOA/WHINSEC and human rights abuses by the military.

    To really test that hypothesis, someone would need to review human rights records of all FAC officers, WHINSEC grads in one group, and non-grads in the other group as a kind of control (if control is the right word in this situation). The basic question is, does WHINSEC turn out officers more inclined to human rights abuses as opposed to non-WHINSEC grads?

  6. Adam Isacson Says:

    A double-blind study of WHINSEC grads versus non-WHINSEC grads would be fascinating, truly – and it would be impossible to carry one out without the amendment that passed yesterday.

    But it’s not just the nature of SOA/WHINSEC training that is in question (though the manuals used at the old SOA indicate that something was seriously amiss during the Cold War years). It’s also a question of whom the United States chooses to include in the embrace of military aid.

    If the military of Country X has a reputation for abusive behavior and impunity, then a larger proportion of graduates from Country X will be likely to go on to commit abuses, regardless of the type of training they received at the school. The question, then, is why the United States saw fit to train so many soldiers from Country X’s un-reformed military in the first place.

    Today, much more (though certainly not all) of the training WHINSEC offers is aimed at improving the professionalization and human-rights performance of Country X’s army.

    Are these changes working? Are WHINSEC graduates now leading the more moderate, democratic factions of their armed forces, or are they still part of the problem? How can we determine whether the past several years’ changes are having any impact if we cannot access the universe of graduates?

  7. Tambopaxi Says:


    Agree. Keep me in mind for you get set to do that study. I lived in Colombia over three years, and I love the place. regards, T

  8. maremoto Says:


  9. maremoto Says:

    wow..everybody here, even you mr. editor, missed the main point. If these latin american military officers
    constantly end up being involved in abuses, not just in Colombia, who cares about double blind studies, however fascinating those may be, or, oh it’s not soa’s fault but the fundamental argument is if there are so many abuses going on in latin america by military opfficers why have this “school” in the first place ? doesn’t it prove a link to those abuses ? a willingness to tolerate them?? I would say support… LOL… of course it does and you know it…the new imperialists…..the little pampered bitches who don’t care whose lives they destroy as long as they get their little greedy way and as long as the killing and dying is done far away and it’s not in “the news”…well, then it didn’t happen …human garbage is what that’s called

    the fact, that some people here, among them my good buddy Camilla, whom I see is in top Bill O’Reilly shape again, while others have a more refined argument in support of involvement in human rights abuses in latin america, would attempt to defend such a shameful history speaks volumes about your character or lack of…..LOL

    human rights abusers..criminals….garbage as human beings….LOL

  10. Camilla Says:

    Here’s the problem with that idea: Colombian military officers aren’t just any Latin American military and they don’t abuse human rights on a systemic basis. Like President Uribe, they hold a high public approval rating, at 78%, according to the latest Gallup poll. They’ve never had a public approval rating below 60% even during bad years of defeat. If they were out systematically slaughtering peasants, they wouldn’t have that rating.

    The International Left has a lazy view that all Latin American countries are exactly alike. They hear the tales of Guatemala 1979 or Chile 1973 and immediately say that ‘rightwing human-rights-violating death squads’ are the main risk in the region, all these mythical fascists (which they mischaracterize as rightwing, even though fascism is a leftist phenomenon, as is National SOCIALISM). In reality, the problem in Latin America is the radical and violent left, which is responsible for 40,000 Colombian deaths. But to most leftists, if leftists are out commiting the crime, they isn’t terribly concerned about it as a human rights violation and instead use it as an excuse for appeasement talks to reward the terrorists with unearned political spoils in what ought to be a democracy. Latin America has changed. The militaries are not the problem. The terrorists, however are. Crickets chirping on the left.

  11. Randy Paul Says:

    The preceding had more strawmen than a road show company of the Wizard of Oz.

  12. Randy Paul Says:

    (which they mischaracterize as rightwing, even though fascism is a leftist phenomenon, as is National SOCIALISM).

    Especially that famous lefty, Francisco Franco, who sought and received help from Hitler and Mussolini, which would make any sentient being with a modicum of critical thinking skills sit back and wonder why two alleged lefties (in Camillaland and Jonah Goldbergville and the rest of the wingnut feverswamp only) would help a righty like Franco.

    Your nitwittery is a thing of wonder.

  13. Camilla Says:

    Your personal attacks are rather more breathtaking. By the way, do you ever have any thoughts of your own on Adam’s post? Or are your only thoughts of me? How little you add to this thread with your embarassing bile.

  14. Randy Paul Says:

    Nothing personal about it, Camilla. I’m not attacking you, I’m attacking the vacuity of the position you hold that fascism is a left-wing idea. Franco was about as right-wing as they come: he was famously quoted as saying in Spain, you are Catholic or you are nothing. He persecuted the left, banned political parties and maintained a fascist dictatorship for nearly forty years.

    In addition, he received aid in the Spanish Civil War from Hitler and Mussolini and openly discussed with them the possibility of entering the war with the Axis powers. In addition, he sent a division of his soldiers to fight alongside the Nazi’s against the Soviets. These are all historical facts, Camilla, yet you persist in making a statement that is unsupportable given the historical record. If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

  15. Randy Paul Says:

    One more thing, Camilla. I’m not the one who accused a man who had suffered 7 years as a hostage of the FARC in the jungles of Colombia, separated from his family, friends and life as being released in order to do the bidding of the FARC as you did here. Your lecturing me about “bile” has as much credence as Hannibal Lecter extolling the virtues of a vegan lifestyle.

  16. Camilla Says:

    Randy Paul: Ah, but is is very personal, it has nothing to do with Adam’s post, but everything to do with a lone male stalking a female to harass her.

    But since you are spewing ignorance, let’s go over it all again one more time: Nazis were national SOCIALISTS, ever heard of that? National SOCIALISTS! Both Hitler and Mussolini considered themselves Men of the Left. You ought to get educated for once by reading up on real history if you can’t bring yourself to read Jonah Goldberg’s well researched book, a number one bestseller on your beloved New York Times bestseller’s list for nonfiction. Books like that don’t get to the top on the NYT list for no reason.

    As for your other comment, I don’t care. Just because a person is a victim does not make them a saint. Suffering ennobles some and corrupts others. Only the left engages in Victim Worship, the foolish 20th century idea that anyone who’s a victim is necessarily a hero. It’s a fallacy. Nobody is made a saint by random circumstances, they are made saints by their own free will, otherwise we’d all just be organisms or commodities of some sort. Your prudish view that there’s no way Eladio Perez could not have been corrupted by his ordeal lacks recognition of human nature and all its variations. The possibility is there, particularly because of his strange talk.

    I stand by my valid question of whether FARC released certain hostages for reasons of their own self-interest and keeps others prisoner because they could make FARC look bad and not say things in FARC’S interest. If I were FARC on the ropes and trying to suck up to Hugo Chavez for a cash lifeline, it’s what I would do, I would pick to free the most weak-minded of the hostages who’d be most likely to speak in my behalf afterward. FARC isn’t a bunch of pollyannas and they didn’t get to be the badass of the Latin Marxist Terror World by putting the wishes of others first. It’s a legitimate question, given the strange behavior of Luis Eladio Perez and the normal behavior of Fernando Araujo. Look the latter up.

  17. Stuart Says:

    So the Democratic Republic of Congo is truly Democratic just because they put it in their name? The Patriot Act is truly Patriotic? Weren’t Communists sent to concentration camps too?

  18. Randy Paul Says:

    Nazis were national SOCIALISTS, ever heard of that? National SOCIALISTS! Both Hitler and Mussolini considered themselves Men of the Left.

    Poppycock. If you called yourself a genius, I certainly wouldn’t believe it. As for Goldberg’s poor scholarshup, he makes no mention of Franco except in passing, and fails to note the existence of the Blue Division, Mussolini’s and Hitler’s bombers providing tactical air support for Franco (ever heard of Guernica?) nor did he make mention of Hitler’s and Mussolini’s discussions with Franco joining the Axis. Given the National Review’s vigorous embrace of Franco during his regime, that’s certainly understandable, but it hardly makes Jonah Goldberg’s scholarship credible outside of the wingnut fever swamp.

    Ah, but is is very personal, it has nothing to do with Adam’s post, but everything to do with a lone male stalking a female to harass her.

    Are you accusing me of a crime? I suggest that you acquaint yourself with the criminal statute for stalking and while you’re at it, look up the definition for libel. Commenting negatively on someone’s comments on an internet forum that do not involve threats is not stalking. You are falsely accusing me of a Class B misdemeanor. That could rise to the level of libel. I suggest that you consider how far you wish to go down that road and govern yourself accordingly.

    Gender has nothing to do with it, your piss-poor reading of history does. If you were male I’d be just as critical. Indeed, your attempt to turn this into a gender issue is beneath contempt.

    Your prudish view that there’s no way Eladio Perez could not have been corrupted by his ordeal lacks recognition of human nature and all its variations.

    If I had ever said that, you might have a point, but my comment was on your eagerness to accuse him of “doing the FARC’s bidding,” when in fact there is zero evidence of that short of your contempt to oppose negotiations udner any circumstances.

  19. Randy Paul Says:

    So the Democratic Republic of Congo is truly Democratic just because they put it in their name? The Patriot Act is truly Patriotic?


    I’m anxious to hear her explain how the German Democratic Republic was democratic and the Democratic Republic of Korea (aka North Korea) was democratic. Should be interesting.

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