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US Should Declassify Files On Repression In Argentina, Chile
Published on Thursday, September 7, 2000 in the St Louis Post-Dispatch
US Should Declassify Files On Repression In Argentina, Chile
by Cesar Chelala
SECRETARY OF STATE Madeleine Albright indicated recently in Buenos Aires that the United States would release the files with information about the Argentinean and Chilean military dictatorships to help investigate repression in both countries. Despite Albright's promise, the CIA is withholding important information. According to George Tenet, the CIA director, releasing such material would violate his responsibility to protect secret intelligence methods. To bring closure to the wrongs committed during the military dictatorships in both countries, however, nothing less than a total declassification of documents related to that period is needed.

Tenet's decision goes against President Bill Clinton's orders to federal agencies to release information, particularly that related to Gen. Augusto Pinochet's rule of terror. Declassification of documents related to Chile could strengthen the possibility of indicting Pinochet in the United States for conspiracy to commit murder. Such an indictment is related to the 1976 car bombing in Washington, D.C., that killed Orlando Letelier, a former Chilean diplomat and opposition leader as well as Ronni Moffitt, Letelier's assistant.

The Justice Department considers Letelier's assassination a state-sponsored act of terrorism on U.S. soil. The Justice Department reopened its investigation on this issue, code-named CHILBOM, after Pinochet was arrested in Britain almost two years ago. The Justice Department should also respond to a request from the Chilean government to extradite Armando Fernandez Larios, who is now living in Miami, and who was a former major in the Chilean military. Larios is accused of serious human rights abuses.

THE release of files on Argentina is also important to help investigate human rights abuses during the last military dictatorship in that country. During her stay in Argentina, Albright met with the leaders of the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, a group of courageous women who are searching for their disappeared grandchildren. They asked Albright for help. On several instances the Grandmothers documented that the military stole the babies of pregnant political opponents and turned them over to childless military couples for illegal adoption.

The Grandmothers believe the United States has information about Operation Condor, a code name for the collection and exchange of information concerning leftists in the Southern Cone countries under military rule. Operation Condor also provided for joint operations -- including assassination -- against political opponents in Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay and Brazil. Operation Condor may have facilitated sending the abducted children to neighboring countries and explain why children who had disappeared in Argentina were later found in Chile or Paraguay.

New information can also help in learning the fate of approximately 30,000 people who disappeared in Argentina during that country's so-called Dirty War. Noga Tarnopolsky, an Argentine journalist whose family was decimated by the Argentine military's repression stated recently, "Families that have lost a relative to an unknown fate live parched lives, desperate for any scrap of data that might ease their misery." For the thousands of people in her situation, a total declassification of information related to Chile and Argentina's violent past can provide a rightful closure to their ordeal.

Cesar Chelala, M.D., New York, is co-author of the article "Missing or Dead in Argentina: The Desperate Search for Thousands of Abducted Victims," for which he shared the 1979 Overseas Press Club of America award for the best article on human rights.

2000 St. Louis Post-Dispatch


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