Monday, 18 August 2008

El Salvador: Police Academy Controversy

NACLA has run a long article on a new US-run police training facility in El Salvador which has revived memories of the infamous School of the Americas, where a number of human rights abusers in the Latin American military dictatorships were trained.

It's hardly surprising that the United States and their plans for an International Law Enforcement Academy weren't exactly welcomed with open arms in Central America... plans in Panama, and then Costa Rica, fell through. Eventually the institution was located in El Salvador. It's also no wonder that in a region scarred by civil war marked by severe human rights abuses, there is suspicion about a military training facility which is not completely transparent in its work.
... the ILEA’s top official, Hobart Henson, who spent 24 years with the Indiana State Police before coming to El Salvador, assures me, “This isn’t the SOA. We’re not teaching torture or water boarding or anything like that. I wouldn’t be involved in something I didn’t feel good about.” When I ask to see course materials, Henson equivocates, at first saying he doesn’t have them in the office, then that it is school policy not to give them out.

[...] A Freedom of Information Act request for ILEA course materials, filed in October, has also gone unanswered. [Editor's note: In March 2008, the Department of Homeland Security rejected the FOIA request. Releasing such materials, according to the rejection letter, “could reasonably be expected to risk circumvention of the law.”]

As Lesley Gill, an anthropologist at American University and author of the book School of the Americas: Military Training and Political Violence in the Americas, explains, “The use of human rights discourses­ in U.S. military and police training is something that started with the SOA. After the SOA was criticized for promoting violence and torture, they started to include a human rights course in their curriculum, and to use human rights language to describe what they were doing.” She continues, “This human rights talk is more aimed at an outside, domestic audience—at the school’s potential critics—than it is indicative of any effort by the U.S. to reform the military or police forces they are involved with. It is designed to stave off criticism."
(Just to be clear, that Editor's Note in the quote is from NACLA, not me... the ellipsis is mine, showing where I cut the article).

Waaaay more detail here:
Another SOA? A police academy in El Salvador worries critics

Also, updated with a letter protesting against the criticism of human rights activist Benjamin Cuellar contained within the original article:
Getting Personal: Cuellar and the ILEA Controversy (NACLA)

And School of the Americas Watch is a site which opposes the existence of the SOA/its new incarnation WHINSEC.

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