Report: Beyond the School of the Americas – World Policy Institute – Research Projects


REPORTS – Weapons at War
May 2000

Beyond the School of the Americas:
U.S. Military Training Programs Here and Abroad

by Frida Berrigan

Beyond the School of the Americas: U.S. Military Training Programs Here and Abroad
Exporting Democracy?
Military Training Alphabet Soup
Colombia: Fighting the Drug War by Training More Warriors?
Indonesia: Who’s Influencing Whom?
Military Training: Ongoing and Ubiquitous


This Issue Brief is the latest in a series of publications by the World Policy Institute’s Arms Trade Resource Center on the impact of U.S. arms sales and military training programs in regions of conflict. To access full-text versions of other reports in this series, consult the publication section of our website, at

The Arms Trade Resource Center would like to thank the following foundations and individuals for supporting our work: the Compton Foundation, Judy Driscoll, the HKH Foundation, Constance Otis, the Ploughshares Fund, Rockefeller Family Associates, the Samuel Rubin Foundation, Mary Van Evera, Margaret R. Spanel, and the Town Creek Foundation.

This Issue Brief is a component of the Center’s ongoing project on the changing dynamics of arms production and trade, which is supported by the Ford Foundation and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

The author would like to thank the following individuals for their contributions to and feedback on this piece: Adam Isacson, Center for International Policy; Lora Lumpe, consultant with Amnesty International USA; Alison Snow, School of the Americas Watch; Miriam Young, Asia Pacific Center; Lynn Fredriksson and John Miller, East Timor Action Network; and William Hartung, Michelle Ciarrocca and Bridget Moix, Arms Trade Resource Center; Laura Gross, Kandy, Sri Lanka. The author accepts full and sole responsibility for any and all errors.

Beyond the School of the Americas: U.S. Military Training Programs Here and Abroad

In the face of pressure to close the School of the Americas (SOA), Army spokespeople have cried foul, asserting that the School serves a valuable function, and that only a small number of the School’s 60,000 graduates have gone on to commit human rights abuses in their home countries. In addition, they argue that the SOA is a different institution now, with a curriculum that incorporates constructive subjects like observing human rights and responding to civilian authority. Thus, the Army seems to be saying, training murderers and torturers was an unfortunate, unintended consequence of the Cold War fight against communism, but that’s all ancient history now.

But, recent developments in Guatemala and Colombia contradict Pentagon claims that its training of human rights abusers and dictators is a thing of the past. In January of this year, Guatemalan SOA graduate Colonel Byron Disrael Lima Estrada was arrested for the 1998 murder of Bishop Juan Gerardi, who was documenting the military’s crimes during Guatemala’s thirty-year war. The report, Guatemala: Nunca Mas, included a chapter on Estrada’s infamous D-2 Military Intelligence Unit entitled “D-2: The Very Name of Fear.” And in Colombia, a new report released by Human Rights Watch, The Ties that Bind: Colombia and Military-Paramilitary Links found that seven officers implicated in recent human rights abuses were graduates of the SOA.

The School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia is notorious for its training of abusive military forces. Latin American tyrants and torturers like Panamanian strongman Manuel Noreiga and Salvadoran death squad architect Roberto D’Aubuisson have passed through its gates. Referred to as the “School of the Assassins” by opponents, the SOA has been the site of massive protests for ten years. Most recently, in November of last year, more than 12,000 people gathered in Georgia to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Jesuit assassinations at El Salvador’s most prestigious university by SOA graduates. Over 4,000 committed civil disobedience, illustrating the groundswell of public opinion to close the School. On Capitol Hill, bills sponsored by Rep. Joseph Moakley (D-MA) and Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) to cut funding from the SOA receive more Congressional support each year.

In fact, the SOA is so tired of the spotlight that it is submitting legislation to change its name to “The United States Defense Institute for Hemispheric Security Cooperation,” or USDIHSC—a name far too clumsy for a banner or a protest slogan. The legislation also suggests the inclusion of law enforcement and civilian personnel training, and courses on Peace Operations and Democratic Sustainment, and an eight-hour human rights requirement. While these additions are a nod toward mounting criticism, they do not represent a substantial shift in mission; the USDIHSC would continue to teach its standard military fare, along with controversial courses like Psychological Operations and Military Intelligence.

A new name and new classes are unlikely to break the connection between the SOA and military repression in Central America. As the movement to close the SOA grows, so does awareness that it is just one link in a very long chain. The scope of U.S. military training programs is extensive– as many as 100,000 foreign police and soldiers receive training from the U.S. government each year. There are more than 150 military institutions that train foreign officers in the United States. In addition, U.S. military officers lead countless training programs in other countries. Many of these programs, while front page news overseas, garner almost no attention in the United States, even when they support regimes with questionable human rights records and a “flexible” definition of democracy.

Exporting Democracy?

“U.S. Steps Up Military Links With Sri Lanka” was the headline of an article in The Sunday Times, a Sri Lankan newspaper on January 30, 1999. The Sri Lankan government, known for its brutality and repression, has been at war with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) since 1983. The Tamil Tigers, as they are known, are fighting for an independent homeland for their minority group. The article, which goes on to describe the joint military operations, is checkerboarded with blank spaces stamped “CENSORED.” Lt. Col. Frank Rindone, Defense Attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Colombo, is quoted as saying military training with Sri Lanka is “founded on our shared interests in democracy, peace keeping, human rights and regional stability.”

Similarly, President Clinton extols this and other U.S. training of foreign militaries as “exporting democracy.” The Pentagon asserts that the “new, improved” training programs of the post-Cold War era are geared towards promoting peacekeeping, efficient management of military resources, and respect for human rights. But, a look beneath the surface suggests that despite their new names and expanded missions, many U.S. military training programs continue to provide combat skills to thugs and murderers. The “new, improved” training is often concealed from Congressional or public scrutiny, making it difficult to assess the real impacts of U.S. military training at home or abroad.

Military Training Alphabet Soup

The three main forms of military training are the International Military Education and Training (IMET) program, Expanded IMET (E-IMET), and the Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET) program. Additionally, a growing number of foreign military personnel are being trained as part of the Pentagon’s counter-narcotics program, through the Section 1004 provision of the Defense Authorization Act.

Of these training programs, IMET is the best known and most common. Founded in 1976, IMET funds training for foreign military personnel, as well as a limited number of civilians, in a wide range of topics- from counter-intelligence to helicopter repair to the administration of military justice. IMET is funded through the foreign appropriations process, and overseen by the State Department, but it is implemented by the Defense Department. In 1999, Congress allocated $50 million to train 8,000 students from 124 countries. A similar amount is budgeted for Fiscal Year 2000.

Congress created the E-IMET program in 1991. In response to criticism that IMET was teaching only lethal skills, E-IMET imparts non-combat skills like defense management, civil-military relations, law enforcement cooperation and military justice. E-IMET is open to controversial countries like Guatemala and Indonesia that at times have been ineligible for military-to-military training. E-IMET accounts for about 30% of IMET funding, or $15 million in 1999.

The House and Senate foreign operations sub-committees oversee IMET and E-IMET and are able to place restrictions on those programs prohibiting countries that abuse human rights from receiving training. Other programs, like JCET and the use of Section 1004 to finance training of military counter-narcotics units, have been used to circumvent Congressional oversight and create a new loophole for providing U.S. training to military forces with records of human rights violations.

Section 1004, which was added to the Defense Department’s budget authorization in 1991, allows the Pentagon to fund training and the transfer of non-lethal military equipment to foreign militaries and police. As long as the aid and training are part of counter-narcotics efforts, the Pentagon has complete discretion in who and what they fund. In some countries, Section 1004 money now dwarfs that of other U.S. military training programs. Mexico, for example, receives ten times more out of Section 1004 money than from the more restrictive IMET funds.

A third program, the Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET), was created in 1991, and has received the most criticism in recent years. Under the program, regional military commanders and U.S. ambassadors are able to send small teams of Special Operations Forces to work with or train foreign militaries without Congressional or Administration approval. Military officers decide who will be trained and sometimes even fund the foreign troops’ participation. In 1999, with a budget of roughly $15 million, U.S. Special Forces performed 124 JCET exercises with 17,000 foreign troops. This is just an estimate, however, as a June 1999 Government Accounting Office (GAO) report concluded that it “was not able to determine how many JCETs occurred.”

Beyond the reach of the foreign aid budget and its restrictions, and shrouded even from the GAO, the Department of Defense is able to carry out JCET training with its own funds as long as the primary objective of the exercise is the training of U.S. forces. While this does not violate the letter of Congressional restrictions on military training, it does counter the spirit of legislation designed to bar nations with records of human rights abuses from receiving U.S. military training.

A series of recent revelations of controversial JCET missions to Indonesia, Rwanda, Kenya and Colombia led to a strengthening of Congressional reporting requirements on JCET training. As of 1999, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations is also required to approve JCET deployments. While this is an important step, it does not go far enough.

Colombia: Fighting the Drug War by Training More Warriors?

In Colombia, where more than 3,000 civilians are killed every year in low intensity war, the United States is stepping up its military interventions in the conflict by pushing through an almost billion dollar aid package– the largest military package in history for South America– including military, police and counter-narcotics training. This has human rights and advocacy groups justifiably concerned that the U.S. is becoming deeply involved in Colombia’s civil war.

For a number of years, despite an almost total ban on military aid, Colombia has received military training through counter-narcotics deployments. U.S. Special Operations Forces have taught hundreds of Colombian soldiers “shoot and maneuver” techniques, counter-terrorism and intelligence gathering. Even when Colombia was decertified in 1996 and 1997 for failure to comply with U.S. aid stipulations, military training continued.

The Leahy Law excludes any units who have been credibly implicated in human rights violations from military training. Named for its principal sponsor, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the provision is an obstacle to unchecked military training programs.

But, Colombian generals are able to sidestep these prohibitions in a number of ways. One method involves removing certain soldiers from notorious units and forming new “clean” units able to receive military training. Another is defining a “unit” as an individual soldier, so a soldier without a personal record of abuses can receive training even if he belongs to a “dirty” unit. While these tactics are hardly subtle, so far they have been effective. Analysts at the Center for International Policy monitoring the Leahy Law implementation calculate that in 1998 members of only two Colombian military units should have been eligible for training. Despite this, fifteen units received training.

Last year, new language was added to the Defense Appropriations legislation aimed at closing this loophole, stating that JCETs cannot take place with foreign security units whose members face credible allegations of gross human rights violations unless “necessary corrective steps” are taken.

Unfortunately, other loopholes still exist. The Pentagon’s Section 1004 provision is another route for the Colombian military to receive training and equipment while avoiding Congressional guidelines. In April of last year, the Pentagon trained and armed a 950-man mobile counter-narcotics battalion at a cost of about $4 million, without having to notify even those members of Congress who monitor military training programs funded through the foreign assistance act. The Pentagon estimates that it provided more than $20 million in Section 1004 training and aid to Colombia in 1999, meaning that almost 90% of all U.S. military training and aid was transferred to Bogota without prior Congressional approval or knowledge.

The counter-narcotics training taking place in Colombia is virtually indistinguishable from counter-insurgency skills: both provide training in small unit tactics, light infantry, and irregular combat. In a country like Colombia, with a bloody and complex forty-year civil war, President Clinton’s assurances that counter-narcotics aid will reduce “the drug flow into America” without leading to “another Vietnam” should not be taken at face value.

Indonesia: Who’s Influencing Whom?

The JCET program, as well as the increasing use of Section 1004 to fund military training, amply demonstrates that the mechanisms in place to control and oversee training are totally inadequate. H. Allen Holmes, who oversees Special Operations Forces, chafes under what he perceives to be restrictive measures to hobble military efforts or undermine their expertise. He says, “the people who should have control are the people who actually do things.” But, a closer look at training programs in Indonesia, a country with protracted internal conflict and an abysmal human rights record, gives ample support to the position that U.S. policy on military training should NOT be left in the hands of the military personnel.

A United Nations investigation and an Indonesian human rights panel both concluded that the Indonesian military was responsible for the militias who unleashed a wave of terror in East Timor last summer, following the Timorese vote for independence from Indonesia’s repressive twenty-five year rule. General Wiranto and other top officers armed, trained, and directed the right-wing militias that murdered and displaced thousands of East Timorese. During the crisis, the Pentagon maintained it was using its “influence” to pressure Wiranto to rein in the activities of the militias. Instead, the Indonesian armed forces, which have benefited from $1 billion in U.S. weaponry and millions in U.S. training since they first occupied East Timor in 1975, were in the forefront of the killing in Timor. In early September, the U.S. government was belatedly forced to cut off all military aid, training and contact.

But today militias still operate in West Timor, terrorizing and threatening East Timorese refugees barred from returning to their homes. Despite the lack of real change in East Timor, the Pentagon has quietly resumed its training of Indonesian recruits for Kopassus, “the most feared, most hated, and most abusive Indonesia unit in East Timor.” Independent human rights groups have criticized Kopassus for carrying out torture, disappearances and extrajudicial killings.

Seven Indonesians, their military education paid for by Kopassus, remained in the U.S. while violence ripped through Dili and Jakarta. They recently resumed a standard ROTC program, taking classes in intelligence gathering, weapons and field training, as well as “military ethics.” The students were exempted from the ban on military training because the Indonesian military, not the U.S. government, paid their tuition and because they attend Norwich University, a private military college.

U.S. officials see the resumption of classes for this small group of Indonesians as a step towards reestablishing normal relations with Indonesia. They point toward small steps Indonesia has made– like the democratic election of President Abdurrahman Wahid– as an indication that their influence is working. But even as they tout the importance of training and military relations in influencing Jakarta, there have been some embarrassing interactions that have left observers wondering just who is influencing whom.

The United States suspended IMET training to Indonesia in 1992, after the Dili massacre in which hundreds were killed and two U.S. journalists were badly beaten, only to partially restore E-IMET after intense pressure from Jakarta in 1994. U.S. officials say the change is more than an added letter because Indonesian officers now receive training in human rights and are limited to classroom instruction. But, while Congress and the public thought this was the end of the story, Pentagon documents reveal that the U.S. military also continued training the Indonesian army in lethal tactics under the JCET program. The notorious Kopassus forces received 26 of the 41 training exercises offered under JCET in the past few years.

Military Training: Ongoing and Ubiquitous

Indonesia and Colombia are not special cases. U.S. military training– both in U.S. military institutions and universities and in other countries– is ongoing and almost ubiquitous. U.S. military officers have trained Turkish commandos in mountain operations and a Kenyan paratrooper battalion in infiltration techniques. The Philippines, Thailand, Jordan and Mexico are some of the leading recipients of IMET grants. Six of the seven countries with troops involved in the Congolese war have been recipients of U.S. military training. And in Sub-Saharan Africa, U.S. troops trained with the militaries of 22 countries between 1996-1998. Seventeen of those countries are under U.S. imposed sanctions because of coups, human rights violations, political unrest, or failure to repay U.S. loans.

Curbing U.S. training of foreign militaries is like “trying to squeeze a balloon, it always pops up somewhere else,” says Center for International Policy analyst Adam Isacson. Instead of promoting peacekeeping, stability and democracy, U.S. programs as currently structured are fostering war, chaos, and repression. Despite this sobering picture, some positive steps have been made as a result of careful investigative work, grassroots pressure, and legislative action. But more work is needed to pop the balloon.

How and why the U.S. military training network has been allowed to grow beyond the control of Congress or the scrutiny of the American public is the question policy makers and concerned citizens should be asking themselves.


Close the School of the Americas:
Rather than seeking to blur past wrongs with superficial changes, the SOA should accept responsibility for its legacy, investigate and fully disclose all human rights abuses by graduates and close its doors permanently.

Increase Quality and Quantity of Oversight:
Given the loopholes that exist, increasing the quantity and improving the quality of information on military training programs to Congress and the public is an important first step in creating an environment of transparency and accountability. The Departments of State and Defense should submit comprehensive, readable annual reports to Congress and post them on the web for concerned citizens.

Require Counter-narcotics Reporting:
Funding for counter-narcotic training increases, even as reporting requirements lag. The Pentagon should submit a single annual report, including descriptions of each anti-drug program, the branches executing the program, and the program’s rationale.

Track Trainees:
In order to confirm that military training is contributing to counter-narcotic and other legitimate military efforts, while avoiding involvement in internal conflicts, human rights abuses or violations of the rule of law, all officers receiving U.S. military training should be tracked for a period no shorter than a year.


Just the Facts: A Civilian’s Guide to U.S. Defense and Security Assistance to Latin America and the Caribbean, available from Center for International Policy at

School of the Americas Watch, an organization seeking to close the School of the Americas. Their website is

The East Timor Action Network’s Backgrounder on East Timor and U.S. Policy is a valuable resource, available online at

The Ties That Bind: Colombia and Military-Paramilitary Links, a hard hitting report from Human Rights Watch, on the web at

Guatemala: Nunca Mas report from the Recuperation of Historic Memory Project available in Spanish on the web at

Guatemala: Memory of Silence also documents the legacy of thirty years war and the role of U.S. trained military officers, available at the same website in English.

World Policy Institute has numerous reports on U.S. weapons sales and training in regions of conflict, as well as analysis of politics and economics of arms sales.

U.S. Department of Defense and U.S. Department of State, Joint Report to Congress, March 1, 2000, “Foreign Military Training and DoD Engagement Activities of Interest In Fiscal years 1999 and 2000,”


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