In recent years, the Pentagon has kept the public from finding out the names of Latin American security forces being trained at an army base in Georgia. And it wants to keep it that way. From 1994-2004, the U.S. military, in response to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, disclosed the nationalities of the security forces it was training at the school. But soon after the feisty activists from School of the Americas Watch (SOAW) shed light on how the U.S. was training known human rights abusers from Latin America in 2004, the Department of Defense stopped telling the public who was attending the institution. It was a bid to keep the public who was attending the institution. It was a bid to keep the public from finding out whether the U.S. continued to facilitate human rights abuses in Latin America through that training, which would be a violation of U.S. law. Now the military is doubling down on that position and is embroiled in a court battle with SOAW over the disclosure of names of trainees at what is now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC). (In 2001, after bad publicity was heaped on the institution, the school's name was changed from School of the Americas to WHINSEC.) Although a district judge in California ruled that the DOD had to release the names, the court battle continues. The Obama administration still has not released the names, and is likely to appeal the judge's decision, which could send the case to a higher court. The administration has already filed a "notice of appeal" to the judge's decision but the district court proceedings are not yet over. Some outstanding issues, like the full scope of the DOD's disclosure, remain unsolved, but the plaintiffs got most of what they wanted from the judge. And the district court's order represented a major win for transparency advocates, as the judge rejected the government's assertion that releasing the names of trainees would harm the U.S. "national interest", a claim that usually wins the day. The court dispute between SOAW and the Department of Defense is the activist group's latest salvo in their effort to shine a light on the Georgia
school, which has been responsible for training the perpetrators of a wide range of Latin American human rights abuses, from genocide in Guatemala to the killing of Jesuit priests in El Salvador. And the refusal of the military to release the names is yet another example of the Obama administration's penchant for secrecy. "The soldiers who are being trained at the SOA/WHINSEC are doing the bidding of the Pentagon. Their purpose is to preserve U.S. domination, and to keep Latin America open for U.S. business. The reason why the Pentagon is keeping the names of the graduates secret is that they want to prevent the truth about their actions being made public. Making the names public and exposing the activities of SOA/WHINSEC graduates is one step towards shutting down the school for good."