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U.S. Army School of the Americas: Background and Congressional Concerns

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Publication Date: April 2001

Publisher(s): Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service

Series: RL30532

Topic: Military and defense (Military policy)


The School of the Americas was a U.S. Army training facility founded in 1946 largely for Spanish-speaking cadets and officers from Latin American nations. The School was located at Fort Benning, Georgia. Controversies developed in recent years concerning human rights abuses committed by School graduates, and there were several legislative attempts since 1993 to cut funding for the School. The School was charged by P.L. 100-180 (10 USC 4415) with the mission of developing and conducting instruction for the armed forces of Latin America. The law stipulated that the School would promote military professionalism, foster cooperation among the multinational military forces in Latin America, and expand Latin American armed forces' knowledge of U.S. customs and traditions.

According to critics, the School had abusive graduates who violated human rights. They maintained that soldiers who were chosen to attend were not properly screened, with the result that some students and instructors attended the School even after being implicated in human rights violations. In September 1996, concerns over the School intensified when DOD made available excerpts from seven Spanish language training manuals used at the School from 1982 until 1991. The manuals discussed forms of coercion against insurgents, including execution and torture.

Supporters of the School contended that it had the potential to help bring about greater respect for human rights in Latin America by providing human rights training to thousands of Latin American military officials. Supporters maintained that those graduates who committed human rights violations did not commit the violence because of their training at Fort Benning, but rather in spite of it. They argued that only a small number out of a total of over 60,000 School graduates have been accused of human rights violations. Supporters also argued that most Latin American militaries now support civilian democratic rule.

Congressional oversight of the School of the Americas increased since 1993, essentially focusing on human rights issues. Four House attempts to cut funding for the School were rejected in 1993, 1994, 1997, and 1998. In 1999, the House voted to cut funding for the School during consideration of the FY2000 foreign aid appropriations bill, H.R. 2606. Ultimately, however, the conferees on the bill rejected the House position and continued funding for the School. In November 1999, Secretary of the Army Louis Caldera proposed a plan to restructure and rename the school, making it more academic and recruiting civilians from Latin American governments as well as military students from the region. In October 2000, the FY2001 defense authorization bill, (H.R. 5408), contained language that was incorporated into the H.R. 4205 conference report (H.Rept. 106-945), which repealed the legislative authority for the School of the Americas and replaced it with new authority for the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation along the lines of Secretary Caldera's 1999 proposal. Through enactment of H.R. 4205 into law on October 30, 2000, (P.L. 106-398), the U.S. Army School of the Americas ceased to exist. This report provides background on the former School and issues related to it. It will not be updated.