This is a big fu***' deal.
It might not seem like one on its face, and it's not clear whether it'll survive an appeal, but this ruling ends a grueling eight-year struggle for basic [public] accountability of one of the most notorious paramilitary training centers in the history of the world.
The sixty-seven year old, Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, (formerly known as the School of the Americas) has trained untold numbers of despots and paramilitary leaders from all over the Western Hemisphere, and has in the past brought in trainees from other parts of the world as well, including Africa. Among its alumni: military dictators General Rios Montt of Guatemala, Manuel Noriega of Panama and Bolivia's Hugo Banzer. Also allegedly trained at the school 19 Salvadoran soldiers and officers involved in the 1989 killings of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her 16-year-old daughter.
The story's at ABC.com:
The Department of Defense must disclose the names of individuals who studied and taught during the past eight years at a Georgia school that trains foreign military and police officers, a federal judge in California has ruled.Hamilton's ruling came down in late April and was welcomed by the San Francisco-based SOA Watch, the organization that brought the suit. Members have doggedly protested at the headquarters of the SOA at Fort Benning, Georgia for more than two decades. They've worked tirelessly during that time to implicate students and alumni of the notorious training site in human rights abuses in El Salvador, Colombia, Peru, Guatemala and other Latin American countries.
U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton in Oakland rejected the federal government's argument that identifying trainees and teachers at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation would violate their privacy and potentially compromise their safety, saying such concerns were outweighed by "the strong public interest in access to this information."
Those abuses are well documented.
"This use of the information is indicative of the public interest in disclosure and in knowing what the government is up to," the judge wrote. "When balanced against the relatively weak showing of privacy, the interest of U.S. citizens is at least as strong."SOA Watch used the disclosed information to reveal the names of graduates until The Bush regime arbitrarily discontinued public access to the information. Unfortunately, the Obama administration has continued to keep the information classified even in response to a number of Freedom of Information requests by SOA Watch.
For a decade, from 1994 until 2004, the Pentagon did release the names, home countries and military units of people who attended or taught at the school since its 1946 founding.
In 2010, Congress passed a defense bill that included a provision requiring the release of information for 2009 and 2010 but also attached a rider in the dead of night allowing the Secretary of Defense to not comply if he determined that disclosure was not in the interest of national security.
The Department of Justice, who is representing the Department of Defense declined to comment pending an appeal.
In court documents, government lawyers argued that providing the names, home countries and occupations of students and instructors could expose them to terrorist threats, as well as make Latin American officers who have been involved in curbing drug trafficking targets for reprisals. The lawyers also said Congress had access to the school's attendance records and that the State Department could screen out potential trainees with records of past abuses through the visa process.Laicized Catholic priest Father Roy Bourgeois, the founder of SOA Watch called the ruling...
Hamilton said the administration had failed to show that any former students had been harmed by the pre-2004 practice of releasing the names or that teachers and trainees had been promised anonymity since then.
"... a victory for transparency and human rights, and against government secrecy."A victory indeed.
SOA is the mechanism used by the U.S. government to spread hegemonic interests around the world and it needs to stop. If it survives the appeals process, which is in no way a certainty, this ruling could very well provide a mechanism that could be used to start the accountability process for egregious wrongs done in our names... and paid for by our tax dollars.