The School of the Americas, which has been known as WHINSEC (the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation) since 2001, trains 700 to 1,000 Latin American leaders every year in U.S. military tactics, counter-terrorism, suppression of the narcotics trade and, according to the non-governmental organization School of the Americas Watch, torture and the violation of human rights. Even in its latest guise as WHINSEC, this school presents a misleading image of the United States to Latin Americans and to the world at large. It ought to be shut down.
There is little doubt or debate that the School of the Americas in its original guise, between 1946 and 2001, condoned and encouraged the use of tactics that were fundamentally demeaning and uncivilized. When the Pentagon released training manuals from the School into the public domain in 1996, outsiders were shocked to read the brutal interrogation methods of these manuals. They involved practices such as waterboarding, sleep deprivation, targeting of family members and similarly abhorrent tactics. Joseph Kennedy II, the son of Robert Kennedy, then serving as a Massachusetts Congressman, said, “These manuals taught tactics that come right out of a Soviet gulag and have no place in civilized society.” Surely the United States would not stoop to Stalinist tactics as a matter of course – but it did.
I do not doubt that WHINSEC has remedied the most egregious errors of the School of the Americas. Also, I recognize that since narcotics trafficking is so pervasive in many Latin American countries, we ought to share policing best practices with our allies in the Organization of American States (OAS). Still, there are alternative venues, such as Interpol, to exchange our policing best practices without the historical baggage of the School of the Americas. Also, the closing of WHINSEC would make a lot of sense in the course of a holistic re-examination of American foreign policy in the 21st century.
Barack Obama said in the first presidential debate, “In the ‘60s… the ideals and values of the United States inspired the entire world. I don’t think any of us can say that our standing in the world now, the way children around the world look at the United States, is the same.” (Source: CNN.com transcript). If Senator Obama is elected, it seems that a major re-evaluation of our foreign policies is in store. Our policy towards Latin America is a big component.
During the Cold War, United States policy towards Latin America was single-minded. It had one goal: prevent Communist regimes from sprouting in the region by any means necessary, including aiding and comforting military thugs who brutalized and tyrannized their people. The end of the Cold War didn’t change the single-mindedness of U.S. policy towards Latin America, only the target. Instead of preventing Communism, we now prevent the drug trade and ally with anybody who can help us in the endeavor.
The heavily regulated legalization of marijuana, the reduction of draconian penalties for the possession, use and import of harder drugs, and the comprehensive reform of our broken immigration policies along the lines suggested by Senator John McCain would take our foreign policy towards Latin America off of a “War on Drugs” footing, enable us to focus on economic development and the reduction of trade barriers with Latin American countries and give U.S.-trained leaders a humane image in their home countries. To achieve these worthy ends, WHINSEC should be speedily closed.