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Home Action Legislative Action Current Bills and Actions Letter to President Obama from Members of Congress
Letter to President Obama from Members of Congress PDF Print E-mail

(Scroll down for names of the Representatives who signed this letter)

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.

Sincerely,

Download a PDF of this letter here.

Members of the House of Representatives who signed the McGovern/Lewis Letter to President Obama urging him to close the SOA/WHINSEC (sent to President Obama August 16, 2011):
McGovern, James (MA)
Lewis, John (GA)
Baldwin, Tammy (WI)
Braley, Bruce (IA)
Blumenaur, Earl (OR)
Capps, Lois (CA)
Capuano, Michael (MA)
Carnahan, Russ (MO)
Carson, Andre (IN)
Clarke, Yvette (NY)
Cohen, Steve (TN)
Conyers, John Jr. (MI)
Cummings, Elijah (MD)
Davis, Danny (IL)
DeFazio, Peter (OR)
DeLauro, Rosa (CT)
Doyle, Mike (PA)
Ellison, Keith (MN)
Eshoo, Anna (CA)
Farr, Sam (CA)
Fattah, Chaka (PA)
Filner, Bob (CA)
Fitzpatrick, Michael (PA)
Frank, Barney (MA)
Fudge, Marcia (OH)
Garamendi, John (CA)
Grijalva, Raul (AZ)
Gutierrez, Luis (IL)
Hahn, Janice (CA)
Hastings, Alcee (FL)
Hinchey, Maurice (NY)
Holt, Rush (NJ)
Honda, Michael (CA)
Jackson, Jesse Jr. (IL)
Kucinich, Dennis (OH)
Lee, Barbara (CA)
Lofgren, Zoe (CA)
Loebsack, David (IA)
Maloney, Carolyn (NY)
Markey, Ed (MA)
Matsui, Doris (CA)
McCollum, Betty (MN)
McDermott, Jim (WA)
Michael Michaud (ME)
Miller, George (CA)
Moore, Gwen (WI)
Nadler, Jerry (NY)
Neal, Richard (MA)
Olver, John (MA)
Paul, Ron (TX)
Pingree, Chellie (ME)
Polis, Jared (CO)
Price, David (NC)
Rangel, Charles (NY)
Richardson, Laura (CA)
Rush, Bobby (IL)
Ryan, Tim (OH)
Schakowsky, Jan (IL)
Serrano, Jose (NY)
Slaughter, Louise (NY)
Speier, Jackie (CA)
Stark, Peter (CA)
Tonko, Paul (NY)
Towns, Edolphus (NY)
Waters, Maxine (CA)
Waxman, Henry (CA)
Welch, Peter (VT)
Woolsey, Lynn (CA)
Yarmuth, John (KY)
(69)
*italics indicates Republican
(updated 8/16/11)

 

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