Photo via Patderianbiography

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.

US President Jimmy Carter
US President Jimmy Carter

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(…)

The ESMA, Escuela de Mecánica de la Armada in Buenos Aires, was the largest detention center during the Dirty War in Argentina. Today it is managed by the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo.
The ESMA, Escuela de Mecánica de la Armada in Buenos Aires, was the largest detention center during the Dirty War in Argentina. Today it is managed by the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo.

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.”

Pat Derian. Photo via Infobae
Pat Derian. Photo via Infobae

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 43, File 1, April 10, 1979:  A letter from  journalist Jacobo Timerman’s wife, Rische, expressing her gratitude to the US for the role the Carter administration played in her husband’s release from illegal captivity. Timerman was the founder of La Opinión, one of the few media outlets that reported human rights violations during the 1970s. He was abducted in April 1977, accused of helping the Montoneros guerrilla movement launder money. He was finally released in 1979 and managed to exile himself to Israel, partly thanks to the US’s concern over his particular case. In fact, in another document that can be found on page 43, file 1, a memo details how Ambassador Castro requested military general Roberto Viola for Timerman’s release. 

Page 69, File 1, October 1979: A memo destined to the US’s Department of State detailing a conversation between the US Ambassador to Israel and Jacobo Timerman shortly after the latter’s release: according to Timerman, the military’s main concern wasn’t whether he was helping the Montoneros launder money, but if he was indeed the “Argentine leader of an alleged world Zionist conspiracy.” He wasn’t.

Argentine journalist Jacobo Timerman, shown at home June 21,1991, died at the age of 76, from a heart attack, late November 11. Timerman drew international acclaim for bucking dictatorial repression and being tortured under the country's 1976-1983 military regime.
Argentine journalist Jacobo Timerman, shown at home June 21,1991, died at the age of 76, from a heart attack, late November 11. Timerman drew international acclaim for bucking dictatorial repression and being tortured under the country’s 1976-1983 military regime.

Page 50, File 1, October 1977: a letter from then de facto President Jorge Videla to Jimmy Carter, in which he explains the reasons why he rejects Carter’s request to release six members of the Deustch family, who had been abducted and tortured in “La Perla” (the pearl) and “La Ribera” (the riverbank) clandestine detention centers. In the letter, Videla openly explains the reason for the family’s “detention” was their engagement in “illegal activities,” and calls them “subversives.”

Page 44, File 1, November 1977: A few months after, President Carter sent a personal letter to Videla expressing his concern over the human rights situation in the country: “As I told you, there is great interest and concern in the United States over the rate of people detained in Argentina under the national executive power,” says Carter, who went on to politely reject an invitation to attend the wedding of the president’s son: “I want to thank you and Mrs. Videla for the very kind invitation to attend your son’s wedding, and regret that I will be unable to attend. Please give my congratulations and best wishes to your son and his bride,” says Carter. In the same letter.

Page 83, File 1, March 21, 1979: a memo directed to the US Secretary of State regarding the future of US-Argentine bilateral relations posits that “the human rights situation in Argentina might be the worst in the hemisphere.” The explains that “the Argentine government wants a warmer relationship with the US because the Carter administration has an image of morality, something that could contribute to the idea that the Argentine military government is legitimate.” However, it suggests the US stay “cool and correct” until the human rights situation improves drastically.

Page 149, File 1, June 1978: a memo detailing  former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s attendance at the 1978 World Cup in Argentina as the personal guest of dictator Jorge Videla. The Guardian described the visit as a hindrance to “Jimmy Carter’s carrot-and-stick attempts to influence the regime during his 1977-81 presidency.

“Former secretary of state Henry Kissinger jeopardized US efforts to stop mass killings by Argentina’s 1976-83 military dictatorship by congratulating the country’s military leaders for “wiping out” terrorism,” the outlet says. During his visit, Kissinger and his family were received as friends by the military Junta: “The Government of Argentina laid out a red carpet, pulling out all the stops. Dr. Kissinger complimented them for defeating terrorists but warned the tactics used against them then were not justifiable now,” reads the memo.

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.

“All three governments were rather slow to adjust, but they have come to understand its importance. Uruguay, however, does not quite understand why the US currently attacks it for human rights violations while several years ago it encouraged the Uruguayans to suppress all forms of subversion,” reads a paragraph of the memo that perfectly summarizes US’s foreign policy on Latin America during the 1970s.