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US Army School of the Americas (USARSA/SOA)

After 54 years, the US Army School of the Americas (USARSA; also known by the acronym SOA) was closed on 15 December 2000, in accordance with Section 2166 of the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2001.

The US Army School of the Americas was a bilingual Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) service school that trained over 56,000 military, police and government from 22 nations throughout the hemisphere. The School was charged by Public Law 100-180 (10 USC 4415) with the mission to provide doctrinally sound, relevant military education and training to the nations of Latin America; promote democratic values and respect for human rights; and foster cooperation among the multinational military forces. A highly qualified staff of 320 military and civilian instructors, and some 30 guest instructors from Latin America, prepared, supported, and presented more than 30 courses in Spanish to students representing over 125 nations. SOA's professional program prepared the company- and field-grade officers, cadets, noncommissioned officers, police and civilian government personnel to face the ever increasing role of the armed forces in conducting non-traditional missions involved in Operations Other Than War.

Sensitive to that, SOA added new courses to include peace operations, resource management, border operations, democratic sustainment, medical assistance, counter-mine operations, and counter-drug operations. All of the instruction was designed to prepare the military forces of the Americas to be constructive and effective partners in the democratic processes of their nations.

Inherent in all the training and education programs, SOA systematically advocated human rights awareness and strives to graduate students whose respect for such values was both enlightened and solidified. Doctrinal training was supported by human rights instruction comprised of case studies, prominent guest lecturers, diverse informational programs, provocative seminars, and practical application in realistic field scenarios.

The SOA traced its history to the establishment in 1946 at Fort Amador, Panama Canal Zone of the Latin American Center - Ground Division (US Training). The SOA came to occupy Building 35 at Fort Benning, Georgia, a historic edifice which, from 1932 to 1964, headquartered the US Army Infantry School. In April 1994 it had been dedicated as Ridgway Hall in honor of General Matthew B. Ridgway, whose work in Latin America won him honor and distinction.

On 3 April 2000, about 1,000 people demonstrated outside the White House, urging US authorities to close a training center for Latin American military officers. The US Army-run School of the Americas had trained more than 60,000 troops in counterinsurgency warfare over the last 50 years. Critics had long accused the school of training soldiers in questionable and abusive tactics, which were then used against populations in their home countries. Organizers of the demonstration cited reports released by Human Rights Watch and the US State Department that linked graduates of the school to paramilitary killings in Colombia.

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