Politics & Government

SOA Watch returns to federal court seeking names of institute students

Three years after a federal judge ruled the School of the Americas Watch should be granted access to names of students attending the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation at Fort Benning, the Department of Defense goes to court today to appeal the ruling before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Hendrik Voss, a national organizer for the Washington-based group that has held annual vigils outside the military post, said it probably will be more than a month after the hearing before a decision is made.

“We feel really good about it because it was really strong arguments the court made in favor of releasing the names,” Voss said Thursday. “ The court said the Pentagon had no business not releasing the names in the first place.”

In the April 22, 2013 ruling by Judge Phyllis Hamilton, SOA Watch also sought the names , ranks, branches of service, countries of origin and years of attendance of students, instructors and guest instructors. The government attempted to deny release of the names because of federal exemptions of personal privacy and medical but was rejected.

The School of the Americas was founded in 1946 in Panama and moved to Fort Benning in 1984. The school closed in December 2000 and reopened in January 2001 under its current name with a new curriculum.

The institute instructs military, police and civilian personnel from the Western Hemisphere on human rights, rule of law, civilian control of the military and role of the military in a Democratic society.

A lawsuit was filed for plaintiffs Theresa Cameranesi and Judith Liteky, members of a San Francisco Research Group of the SOA Watch, after the group was denied names of students and instructors from 2004-2010. The names had been released from 1946-2003 and used by SOA Watch to create a database for citizen oversight of the graduates.

“We have not got the names since they stopped releasing them,” Voss said. “We are looking forward to getting the names once the court is coming through for us. We will get all the names and do research on those names.”

Cameranesi and Liteky identified students and instructors at the institute who were admitted for training although they had been charged with human rights violations.

The SOA Watch has raised awareness of the institute after the 1989 slayings of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her 16-year-old daughter in El Salvador. Nineteen soldiers who trained at the local Army post were implicated in the slayings.