Congressional letter to President Obama

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Congressional letter to President Obama Powered By Docstoc
					The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear President Obama,

       Recognizing the difficult fiscal challenges facing you and the Congress, we write to urge
you to use your executive powers to end all funding for the operations of the Western
Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC) provided through the Departments
of Defense and State. This will result in an annual savings of approximately $18 million
annually, or $90 million over five years and $180 million over ten years.

        The history and legacy of the WHINSEC, and its predecessor institution, the U.S. Army
School of the Americas (SOA), are very problematic for broad sectors of Latin American civil
society. The approach of the U.S. government and the Department of Defense towards this
history has been cynical and dismissive. In 1999, when the U.S. House of Representatives voted
by a bipartisan margin to close the SOA, the Pentagon moved the following year to close the
SOA one morning, and the very next morning open the WHINSEC, on the same site, with the
same faculty and classes.

        Further, in 2006, abruptly and arbitrarily, the Pentagon decided to alter the nearly 60-year
precedent of providing to the public the names of students and faculty at the school; instead,
classifying these names and not even granting their release under the Freedom of Information
Act (FOIA). This rejection of public accountability and transparency is a reflection of the
overall values and attitudes of the Defense Department and the WHINSEC regarding public
debate about the merits of the school. It is offensive that an institution ostensibly created to
foster democratic values and respect for civil society among Latin American militaries
demonstrates such disdain for human rights and non-governmental organizations here in the
United States and throughout the hemisphere. In our view, Latin American militaries are more
likely to take note of the actions of the WHINSEC, rather than its rhetoric.

        Further, while the WHINSEC states that it is building military-to-military relationships
between U.S. and Latin American military officers, it asserts even more strongly that it has
neither the time nor the interest in following the activities or careers of its graduates or foreign
faculty once they return to their own countries and institutional realities. In brief, there is no
relationship-building beyond the brief time Latin American officers spend at the school itself.
Yet the WHINSEC and the DOD have stripped away the right of NGOs to monitor graduates
over time and determine how they apply the lessons learned at the WHINSEC upon return to
their own national realities. Such independent monitoring is especially valuable in

understanding and evaluating the impact of U.S. training for students and faculty from countries
where the military’s record is troubled by human rights abuses, corruption and involvement in
illegal narcotics and other criminal activity.

        Given its problematic history and lack of transparency, the U.S. can easily do without the
WHINSEC. As with other regions of the world, the overwhelming majority of U.S. foreign
military training in Latin America takes place in-country where U.S. advisors and trainers can
actually see and respond to the institutional and national challenges confronting the host military.
And like their counterparts elsewhere in the world, for specialized training Latin American
officers already attend a variety of U.S. military institutions. The Justice Department also
provides training for foreign police officers through its ICITAP program. Indeed, the long-
standing ICITAP program for Latin American police officers was actually shifted to run out of
the WHINSEC, a redundancy that was unnecessary and which clouds the separation in a
democratic society between the roles and responsibilities of the police and those of the
uniformed military. We may hold diverse views regarding the quality and purpose of some of
these programs, but they underscore how closing the WHINSEC will not create a vacuum.

         Finally, to achieve lasting institutional change within Latin American militaries, it might
better serve U.S. interests if nations took upon themselves the establishment of human rights and
rule of law programs, perhaps modeled on the Argentine example. Several years ago, when
Argentina decided to withdraw nearly all its students from the WHINSEC, Argentina’s Ministry
of Defense established training institutions for its military and police that required several
months’ worth of courses – not just 8 hours – in human rights and constitutional government.
These courses are taught by legal and human rights experts drawn from Argentina’s own
academic, NGO and human rights communities. This is the type of long-term and enduring
institutional change the U.S. should be supporting and investing in throughout the hemisphere –
not two- to four-week junkets to attend the WHINSEC.

        We recognize that it is difficult to eliminate any U.S. defense program, even in this time
of harsh fiscal choices. We believe, however, that this is one that will provide little pain, but
contribute to great gain, for the U.S. standing with Latin American democratic and civil society.
For many families and human rights organizations in Latin America, the school is a symbol of
the worst aspects of their violent and/or authoritarian histories. Closing it would be a welcome
signal about America’s continuing commitment to protect and promote human rights and the rule
of law. We therefore urge you to cease all funding for any further operations of the WHINSEC
as quickly as possible.

       Thank you in advance for your serious consideration of this request. We would be happy
to meet with you to discuss this matter in greater detail.


Members of Congress


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