This article was co-published with the Daily Beast.
The Defense Department trained at least 17 high-ranking foreigners at some of its top schools who were later convicted or accused of criminal and human rights abuses in their own countries, according to a series of little-noticed, annual State Department reports to Congress.
Those singled out in the disclosures included five foreign generals, an admiral, a senior intelligence official, a foreign police inspector, and other military service members from a total of 13 countries, several of which endured war or coups.
Several officers committed crimes within a few years of their training. Others committed crimes more than a decade later. Many of the officers were described in the reports as leaders or participants in high-profile scandals and conflicts in their countries — including extrajudicial killings in Colombia, torture during Nepal’s conflict against Maoists, and murder during a Bolivian internal conflict, according to the State Department reports.
A senior Congolese military officer who attended a year-long program at the U.S. Defense Institute of International Legal Studies, in 2007, for example, was sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury Department last September for participation in “violent intimidation” of opposition political candidates, including death threats that prompted some of the candidates to withdraw.
The Defense Department’s training was partly intended to instill democratic values and respect for human rights, but at least 13 of the 17 were subsequently arrested or charged in their home countries for crimes such as genocide, murder, and rape, said the reports, one of which was labeled as “Sensitive but Unclassified.” Others named in the reports were accused of torture or murder by civil and criminal courts, human rights lawyers, or government investigators, but continue to work in their official capacity.
Among the Pentagon- and military-run schools they attended, from 1985 to 2010, were the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, the U.S. Army Engineer School in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, and others.
Independent analysts, lawyers, and human rights experts say the actual number of U.S. foreign military trainees who committed human rights abuses and other crimes is almost certainly higher than 17, in part because the State Department reports to Congress — required under obscure language inserted into a military assistance bill in 2002 that may soon be removed — only encompass one of the more than fifty U.S. training and defense assistance programs.
At least 33 other foreign military officers who received U.S. military and police training later committed human rights abuses, according to a separate tally by researchers at the nonprofit Center for International Policy, who based their tabulation on U.S. and foreign press accounts of incidents of violence or abuse involving foreign government officials.
Several of those on the Center’s list — including Amadou Sanogo, a former captain in Mali’s army— notoriously led coups against their governments a few years after attending the U.S. institutions.
The reports to Congress account for a “very small universe” of all those trained, said Daniel Mahanty, who directed the Office of Security and Human Rights within the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor from January 2014 to September 2015. Mahanty said that he did not know the actual number of human rights abusers trained by the United States, because no effort has been attempted to monitor systematically the behavior of the military’s graduates.