CRS Issue Brief for Congress

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 legislation.


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.


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. p. 11.


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