Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Keeping "Secrets and Lies" on Argentina's Past

Keeping "Secrets and Lies" on Argentina's Past


By Cesar Chelala and Alejandro Garro


May 24, 2011




For a relatively slight margin, the US Congress rejected an

amendment by Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D) to declassify files on

Argentina's 1976-1983 military dictatorship. The refusal to

declassify files on Argentina is likely to have momentous

consequences on the fate of hundreds of babies stolen or

'disappeared' during those years. Many of those babies were

born in clandestine torture centers, while others were

adopted or given in adoption by the same members of the

military or police personnel responsible for their parents'



It is not altogether clear whose interests are sought to be

protected, but one can hardly imagine that national security,

or the work of US spies fighting Al Qaeda, as suggested by

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Mike Rogers (R),

may be put in jeopardy by keeping these files in secret. It

is not even clear whether President Cristina Kirchner's

administration is interested in having these files in the

open. However, if an official request from the Argentine

government were submitted, the U.S. government would be hard

pressed, as a matter of international comity, not to reveal

at least a redacted text of those files.


Aside from governmental interests and politicians' desires to

keep secrets, what is at stake are human lives, victims, and

the administration of justice. In 1999, during the Clinton

administration, Rep. Hinchey presented a similar amendment

for declassifying documents related to General Augusto

Pinochet's administration.  Declassification resulted in the

publication of 24,000 documents that proved to be crucial in

the prosecution of crimes committed during the Chilean

dictatorship.  It provided clear evidence of Pinochet's

connections to the 1976 assassination, in Washington, D.C.,

of Chilean foreign minister Orlando Letelier, along with his

secretary Ronni Karpen Moffitt. Also disclosed was Pinochet

secret police's plans to assassinate former Chilean president

Patricio Aylwin, the presidential candidate of the coalition

that ultimately defeated General Pinochet in 1988.


In December of 2009,  President  Obama signed an executive

order entitled 'Classified National Security Information',

stating:  'I expect that the order will produce measurable

progress towards greater openness and transparency in the

Government's classification and declassification programs

while protecting the Government's legitimate interests, and I

will closely monitor the results.' Failure to disclose

information on Argentina's brutal reign of terror cannot be

in the interest of the U.S. Government and, to the extent

that it may in the interest of some members of the Argentine

Government, it is unlikely that those interests may qualify

as 'legitimate'.


Both the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo and the Grandmothers of

Plaza de Mayo have been searching for decades for their

disappeared children and grandchildren. This decision by the

U.S. Congress only adds to their difficulties in finding

their loved ones. As Representative Hinchey stated, 'The

United States can play a vital role in lifting the veil of

secrecy that has shrouded the terrible human rights abuses of

the despotic military regime that ruled Argentina.'  It is

about time.


Cesar Chelala, MD, PhD, is a co-winner of an Overseas Press

Club of America award. He is also the foreign correspondent

for Middle East Times International (Australia).


Alejandro M. Garro teaches Comparative Law at Columbia Law

School and sits at advisory board of Human Rights

Watch/Americas, the Center for Justice and International Law,

and the Due Process of Law Foundation.




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