The Macri administration yesterday handed human rights organization and journalists a series of newly declassified documents regarding the role the US had during the last Argentine military dictatorship, following the promise that US President Barack Obama made during his recent visit to Argentina, and that Secretary of State John Kerry fulfilled last week.
The over 1,000 files, which are now of public access and can be found on this website, shed more light on how much the US government knew about the human rights abuses going on in the country during that time. It is fair to clarify, however, that the larger part of the documents are from the Jimmy Carter administration. Unlike Carter’s predecessors, who not only didn’t question the dictatorship’s illegal activities but encouraged them under the Condor operation, Carter did make human rights a cornerstone of US foreign policy and actually put pressure on the military regime by withholding loans and the sale of military equipment.
In 2002, the United States declassified around 4,700 records from the State Department pertaining to the 1976-1983 period. Later, the National Security Archive requested documents through the Freedom of Information Act, and found a conversation between then Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and then Argentine Foreign Minister César Guzzetti where Kissinger said: “If there are things that have to be done, you should do them quickly.”
The Bubble started breaking down these new files and so far has found the following highlights:
Page 4, 1st file, August 25, 1978: In a memo, then US Ambassador to Argentina, Raúl Héctor Castro, recounts that he attended a seminar on Argentina where even former de facto President Alejandro Agustín Lanusse — in office between 1971 and 1973 — admitted the military was blatantly violating human rights: “He admitted that Argentina had gone wrong somehow. He did not have any kind words for Videla,” the memo reads.
Page 7, file 1 July 3, 1980: A US government official opens up a memo by quoting a World Bank report on Argentina’s economy, which he apparently thought summed up the country’s state of affairs: “To understand Argentina’s economic history, the work of a psychiatric social worker might be more useful than of an economist,” reads the article, which goes on to say that the country has made progress at a “cost of sharp drop in real wages and a loss in political freedom.” A rather strange definition of progress, if you ask me.
Page 7, file 1, July 3, 1980: This document contains the testimony of Susana Falicoff before the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights regarding both her and her husband Albert’s kidnapping, imprisonment and torture by the military regime: Alberto Falicoff was a doctor working in Córdoba’s children’s hospital.
In 1976, military officers abducted both him and his wife for allegedly helping the families of guerrilla fighters, and took him to the ESMA clandestine detention center. In her testimony, Susana recounts she was let go after a month in captivity. Her husband, however, never left the building. Here’s a summary of her entire testimony:
“On Thursday, November 25, 1976, at 6 PM, the bell rang (…) I saw through the peephole four men in civilian clothing standing against the wall. When they realized I was there, they knocked on the door, and told me to open it or they would shoot. Since the baby was sitting watching television in the door’s line of fire, I opened it. They quickly entered and grabbed me by the arms. I was frightened and screamed.They said “Keep quiet, for the baby’s sake-” and asked me where my husband was(…) my husband arrived at about 2 o’clock.
They immediately locked themselves up with him and I began to hear the sounds of a struggle, pushing and blows. Later, an officer of the Army Intelligence Service arrived along with another officer(…) They came in and out quietly and, on one occasion, brought sweets and toys for the baby, who behaved very well with them because they let him touch their revolvers (…)They told me to prepare clothing for the baby, since they had decided to take me with them.
I asked them to let him say goodbye to his father and they did so. I then saw my husband with his hands tied with a cable. I explained to the child that they were going to take him to his grandmother’s house and I begged them to do so(…). Then they took us(…)I began to hear, coming through one of the walls of pressed cardboard, the sound of a lot of running water, and then the cries of my husband insulting them and repeatedly calling them murderers(…)
Every time they took someone out, the noise of running water and the desperate screams of pain could be heard, despite the fact that a record player was constantly playing very loud music. There were certain songs that they played more frequently, and despite the fact that the tapes were worn, I could hear the lyrics which went roughly: And now what are they? Where are they? What are their ideals?(…) [One night]
The Chief came and asked how things were going. They answered that three people had died. The Chief told them to be more careful because that was too many for one day(…)Every day of the month I spent was the same, stretched out on the mattress and constantly shackled. [After a month in captivity an officer] told me that I was completely free but not to communicate with my in laws, never to go to Córdoba, and not to go out in Buenos Aires for several months.
He repeated that all of my movements were going to be carefully watched and to remember that they still had my husband(…)He gave me a document: a Federal Police I.D. with one of the photos they’d taken of me, but with a number other than my real one, and a forged signature. He told me to burn it as soon as I reached Chaco and to get a duplicate of my real I.D. Then they made me sign a statement that I had been absent from my home voluntarily and for private reasons. After signing the statement, I was issued a passport with the warning: “With this record, you can’t leave the country unless you sign this statement.”
Page 34, file 1, January 30, 1980: A report on human rights in the country written by Patricia “Pat” Derian. Derian was the human rights bureau chief under US President Jimmy Carter, and was credited with saving hundreds of lives by standing up to the generals as a human rights ambassador for the US government. Her extensive report divides the different ways in which the military committed human rights violation by subject. Here are the most important quotes from Derian’s diagnosis on Argentina’s situation between the early 1970s and 1980.
On Torture: “Primarily the statements of former detainees, that torture has been routinely used by the security forces. It has been most frequent during the first days of interrogation and, according to numerous reports, has taken such forms as the use of electric shock, immersion of the head in water, mock executions, and other types of severe physical and psychological abuse.
“On Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment: “There is an extensive body of evidence indicating that summary execution was a common practice during the years when large numbers of people were being detained by the security forces. Before early 1979, conditions of imprisonment were poor, and medical services rudimentary.”
On Arbitrary Arrest and Imprisonment: “The Argentine Constitution, in Article 23, establishes the power of the Executive Branch to detain and hold prisoners under a “state of siege”(which had been in effect since 1974). The Supreme Court, overruling a number of lower court decisions, has upheld this view, accepting broad and unsubstantiated charges of association with subversion as sufficient grounds for detention.”
On Denial of Fair Public Trial: “The trial of those accused of subversion or terrorism may be held in civilian or military court. It’s difficult for the courts to maintain independence. Military tribunals, before which civilians may be tried, conduct their proceedings in secret. An adequate defense in cases of terrorism or subversion is also difficult to ensure because many attorneys are reluctant to assume cases of this nature for fear of harassment and reprisals.”
Respect for Civil and Political Liberties, Including Freedom of Speech, Religion, and Assembly: “The Government has intervened or confiscated a number of newspapers, notably La Opinion, edited by Jacobo Timerman. Journalists have been among the Argentines who “disappeared”. Although the press is not subject to prior official censorship, Governmentimposed guidelines result in self-censorship. Newspapers have, however, actively criticized the Government on economic policy and have discussed political issues including, especially in recent months, human rights.”
Page 162, File 1, March 1977: this memo contains a summary of a conversation in which US National Safety Council staff warn their South American counterparts that, unlike their predecessors, the Carter administration would question them on human rights violations.