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’ disappearance.
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.