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Four Colombian vets implicated in Haiti assassination trained at Fort Benning school, DoD says

Fort Benning (US Army/Released)

Four Colombian military veterans allegedly involved in the assassination of Haitian President Jovenel Moïse participated in U.S.-funded military and training programs at Fort Benning’s Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), a Pentagon spokesperson told the Ledger-Enquirer Tuesday.

The men are among nearly 30 people allegedly involved in Moïse’s assassination. Seven total took part in a form of U.S. military training while serving in the Colombian armed forces, according to records maintained by the Department of Defense and the United States Department of State.

The Department of Defense did not release the names of the four men who trained at the Fort Benning site, just south of Columbus, Georgia.

Officials with Fort Benning declined comment, directing questions about the matter to the Department of Defense.

The seven men were approved for training held in Colombia and the United States between 2001 and 2015. A combined list of courses released by the Department of Defense shows the men took seminars in Washington. D.C., and several courses at WHINSEC.

The sessions in D.C. were “less formal” and not held in a classroom or lab setting. They were focused on specific areas such as general military operations, medical, engineering, logistics, operations, maintenance or other support of weapon systems and support equipment, said Department of Defense spokesperson Lt. Col. Ken Hoffman.

Courses taken at Fort Benning were more specialized. They included counter drug operations, cadet leadership development, noncommissioned officer development and small unit leader training. All courses at the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation include human rights and ethics training, Hoffman said.

Fort Benning is one of the nation’s largest Army posts, straddling the border of Alabama and Georgia. It’s home to the branch’s basic training, Airborne and Ranger schools.

The Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, also known as WHINSEC, opened Jan. 17, 2001 at Fort Benning, following the closure of the School of the Americas. The School of the Americas operated on the post from 1984 until 2000.

WHINSEC hosts 1,200 to 1,900 military, police and civilian students each year. Students come from countries in Latin America and the Caribbean as well as the United States and Canada. Most of the courses are taught in Spanish, according to WHINSEC’s website.

Facility and staff at the school include uniformed members of U.S. and partner nation armed services, a State Department officer and civilian professors.

Candidates for WHINSEC are evaluated by the U.S. Embassy and agencies in the country of origin, plus a further review at the Department of State before being allowed to train in the United States, according to the WHINSEC website.

U.S. military groups in those countries maintain ties with the students once they return home as part of a “military-to-military engagement plan.” A report to Congress is issued each year on all U.S. education and training of foreign students, which includes any known illegal activity by former students, according to WHINSEC’s website. By law, WHINSEC may not track foreign students when they return to their home country.

Critics have called for WHINSEC’s closure, citing a history of human rights abuses dating back to its days as School of the Americas. Graduates have been “implicated in many of the worst human rights atrocities in the Western Hemisphere, including the assassination of bishops, labor leaders, women and children, priests, nuns, community workers and in the massacres of entire communities,” wrote Bill Quigley, Loyola University, New Orleans School of Law professor in his 2005 paper “The Case for Closing the School of The Americas.”

“The fact that WHINSEC trained some of the former Colombian military personnel arrested for the assassination of Haitian President Moïse is a continuation of the long and bloody history of the U.S. in both Haiti and Colombia,” Brigitte Gynther, Latin American liaison for advocacy group School of Americas Watch, told the Ledger-Enquirer. ” … It is far past time for WHINSEC to close and for the U.S. to stop training, equipping, and funding military and police from Colombia, Haiti, and elsewhere.”

The connections to the United States military and counter drug operations training raise questions about the country’s ties to Moïse’s death.

Many of the 28 people alleged to have been involved in the assassination by Haitian authorities were Colombian mercenaries hired through a Florida-based security company. The assailants who stormed the president’s private residence in the foothills of Haiti’s capital would later claim to be part of the Drug Enforcement Administration. The DEA has denied those claims, the Miami Herald reports.

James A. Solages, 35, and Joseph G. Vincent, 55, two Haitian-American suspects from South Florida, insisted the plan was to arrest— not kill — Moïse during the operation, Investigative Judge Clément Noël told the Herald earlier this month.

Moïse, 53, had been Haiti’s president since 2017. His wife, Martine Moïse, was wounded during the July 7 attack, resulting in her being flown to Miami for medical care. Moïse’s funeral will take place Friday in the city of Cap-Haïtien, the Herald reports.

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