Oakland, CA – In a rare reflection of judicial independence, United States District Judge Phyllis J. Hamilton from the Northern District of California ordered the Pentagon to release the names of who trains and teaches at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (SOA/WHINSEC), a U.S. military training school for Latin American soldiers that has been connected to torturers, death squads and military dictators throughout the Americas. Human rights activists had taken the U.S. government to court over its refusal to release the information, and won.
SOA Watch compiled the names, course, rank, country of origin, and dates attended for every soldier and instructor at the SOA/ WHINSEC from 1946 to 2003. After researchers exposed many cases of known human rights abusers attending the WHINSEC (despite claims that the "new" school was committed to human rights), and shared this research with Congressional decision-makers, the Department of Defense (DOD) refused to disclose any future information about students or teachers at the WHINSEC. The human rights community and the U.S. Congress did not agree with the decision. In 2008 and 2009, the House of Representatives passed an amendment to the Defense Authorization bill demanding that the DOD release this information. President Obama signed this measure into law. However, SOA/ WHINSEC supporters in Congress managed to slip in the caveat that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates could issue a waiver to ignore the public's right to know and refuse to release the information.