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Judge says Benning combat school must name trainees

Apr. 24, 2013 - 02:11PM   |  
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OAKLAND, CALIF. — The federal government must disclose the names of Latin American military leaders who attended a Defense Department school, a federal judge in California has ruled.

Protesters claim the U.S. has trained officials at the facility who later committed human rights abuses.

In making her ruling, U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton in Oakland said the Freedom of Information Act “mandates a strong policy in favor of disclosure,” the San Francisco Chronicle reported Wednesday.

Hamilton issued her decision on Monday. The names had been sought by members of SOA Watch, which has protested at the school in Fort Benning, Ga., formerly called the School of the Americas, for more than two decades.

In the past, the federal government disclosed the names of attendees, who included Roberto d’Aubuisson, a Salvadoran politician accused by opponents of promoting death squads, the Chronicle reported.

Other attendees were implicated in the 1989 killings of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her 16-year-old daughter in El Salvador, according to the Chronicle.

But disclosure of the names ended during the George W. Bush administration.

The Obama administration defended that secrecy, saying release of the records could expose trainees to violence and harassment.

It also said Congress had access to attendance records and had the authority to oversee the performance of the school, now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.

Additionally, government lawyers argued that the State Department could screen out potential trainees with records of past abuses through the visa process.

Hamilton said there was no evidence that any of the trainees had been promised anonymity or been harmed by the pre-2004 practice of releasing the names. Officials have also not shown that the attendees’ military status is a secret in their home countries, she said.

The administration could appeal the decision.

Judith Liteky, a plaintiff in the suit, said if the ruling stands, it will restore an important public safeguard.

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