Ben Evans / Associated Press – 2007-06-23 22:36:24
=WASHINGTON (June 22, 2007) — Congress has turned back the latest attempt to cut funding for an Army school that trains military officers from Latin America and has a tainted past.
Just before midnight Thursday, the House voted 214-203 against a bid to eliminate the money used for foreign military officers to attend the controversial Army facility at Fort Benning, formerly called the School of the Americas.
The amendment, sponsored by Rep. James McGovern, D-Mass., is similar to one that the school’s critics have tried to pass for years. It failed 218-188 in a House vote last year.
The school is best known for training Latin American soldiers who fought communist insurgencies in the 1980s and 1990s. Critics have long charged that the Defense Department teaches abusive and illegal tactics there, citing allegations that many graduates later became involved in corruption, murder and human rights violations. Large protests are held annually outside the school near Columbus, Ga.
In the mid-1990s, the Pentagon acknowledged that training manuals previously used at the school recommended bribery, blackmail, threats and torture. In 2001, the Army changed the school’s name to the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, and officials say its curriculum now includes a renewed emphasis on human rights. The school also offers classes for civilians and police officers.
The school “may be the only medium we ever have to engage the future military and political leaders of many Latin American countries,” said Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga. “If we disengage with these nations, the void created would be filled by countries with dismal records on democracy and human rights.”
McGovern responded that the U.S. military has other training centers without the questionable track record of the Georgia school, which trains about 1,000 students per year. He said one of the underlying problems with human rights in Latin America is that too many of the region’s leaders come from the military.
“We should be spending our time and efforts on strengthening civilian, democratic institutions,” he said.
McGovern tried to attach his amendment to a $34.2 billion bill that pays for State Department operations and foreign aid. He noted that it would affect only the small portion of the school’s budget that pays for scholarships for Latin American soldiers — an estimated $2 million to $4 million. The majority of the school’s funding comes from a separate defense spending bill.
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