The School of the Americas (SOA) was created in Panama and moved to Fort Benning, Georgia in 1984. It trained military leaders from countries throughout the Western Hemisphere in combat and counter-insurgency techniques. Hundreds of the SOA’s graduates went on to become human rights abusers, bolstering military dictatorships by killing, torturing, or otherwise suppressing political opponents.
For example, a majority of the individuals implicated in the 1989 killing of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper, and her 16-year-old daughter in El Salvador were soldiers who had been trained at the SOA. In response, SOA Watch was formed in 1990 to raise awareness regarding the SOA’s activities. In 2000, the SOA was “replaced” by the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), which opened in late 2001.
In 2004, after 10 years of releasing the names of SOA/WHINSEC students and instructors to SOA Watch, the Department of Defense (DOD) reversed this longstanding practice. SOA Watch sued under the Freedom of Information Act to obtain such names. U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton ruled yesterday that the DOD improperly withheld the requested names, because of “the strong public interest in access to this information.”