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More Declassified Documents on Argentina
U.S. Declassified Documents: Argentine Junta Security Forces Killed Disappeared Activists, Mothers and Nuns

State Department Opens Files on Argentina's Dirty War

Argentine Military Believed U.S. Gave Go-ahead for Dirty War
Joint CELS-Archive selection of previously declassified documents (site in Spanish)

 

March 28, 2003
For more information contact:
National Security Archive

Carlos Osorio 202/994-7000
Thomas Blanton 202/994-7000

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 The Pentagon and the CIA Sent Mixed Message to the Argentine Military

The Argentine Generals were "told by U.S. government officials" that Washington was "not serious and committed" to human rights.

 

The National Security Archive at George Washington University today published declassified U.S. documents showing that "the Argentines received mixed signals from us on human rights, in effect giving the [Government of Argentina] the impression that it had carte blanche to pursue terrorism," in the mid 1970's, and that in order to convince the Argentine military of Washington's commitment to human rights, "there must be cooperation from DOD and CIA."

The revelations are contained in a series of 15 documents made public by the National Security Archive at a panel featuring former Assistant Secretary of State Patricia Derian and U.S. and Argentine researchers at the Latin America Studies Association (LASA) conference in Dallas, Texas. The panel, "Declassification on Argentina: A Contribution to Truth and Justice," looked at how the 4,677 documents declassified by the Department of State in August 2002 shed new light on key U.S. policy decisions and critical information on the chain of command and responsibility for gross human rights violations under the military dictatorship in Argentina.

Telegrams included in the selection report how Patricia Derian both confronted and tried to reason with the Argentine Generals. "You and I both know that as we speak, people are being tortured in the next floors," Derian told Admiral Massera in 1977. To Interior Minister Haguindeguy, "Mrs. Derian said that the instinctive reaction to terrorism is to do what the GOA [Government of Argentina] had done and that it makes the people victims of the state."

The documents are complemented by Assistant Secretary for Human Rights, Patricia Derian's striking notes of the time when she wrote, "Through these [U.S. military and intelligence] agencies the United States government is sending a dangerous and double message. If this continues, it will subvert our entire human rights policy." [previously cited in Martin Andersen's Dossier Secreto. See below.]

The documents also show how, despite strong language and action on human rights, the Carter Administration entered into secret negotiations with Junta President Rafael Videla and Army Chief Roberto Viola trading U.S. military transfers for human rights improvements. In September 1978, after Vice-President Walter Mondale met Videla in Rome, U.S. Ambassador Raul Castro reported that

"General Viola received me smiling broadly and immediately volunteered the observation that he believed the Rome meeting had gone very well... Viola clearly indicated he had received some positive signals from the USG [U.S. government] referring to the release of FMS [Foreign Military Sales] purchases."

A 1979 telegram reveals how U.S. policy  placed U.S. officials in a moral and political predicament while dealing with those responsible for human rights atrocities. At a meeting with General Viola, then-U.S. Ambassador Raul Castro asked him to help clarify the fate of two recent disappeared Montonero insurgents, Mendizabal and Croatto. Viola responded without hesitation, "Mendizabal and Croatto were terrorists ... who were eliminated ... with my authorization."

Finally, the present selection includes U.S. Embassy reports showing early military efforts to preclude civil courts and avoid accountability for the thousands of disappeared during the military regime. In 1983, the U.S. Embassy received a document from an intelligence source that emanated from the Staff of the Commander-in-Chief outlining its policy towards the issue of the disappeared during the dirty war. The document states that "[u]nder no circumstances will a review of what was then done be allowed, since it is the competence of military justice to investigate infractions that may have been perpetrated."

Organized by the National Security Archive and sponsored by the LASA Southern Cone Section, the panel "Declassification on Argentina: A Contribution to Truth and Justice" gathered Assistant Secretary Derian; professor and journalist John Dinges, who described his findings about the double message sent by the Kissinger Department of State [See Argentine Military Believed U.S. Gave Go-ahead for Dirty War ];  researcher Valeria Barbuto of the Center for Legal and Social Studies (CELS) in Buenos Aires, who talked about CELS' work to provide selections of declassified documents to judges and ongoing judicial cases defying current amnesty laws in Argentina; journalist Noga Tarnopolsky, whose cousins, uncle and aunt disappeared in 1976 and who worked with her surviving cousin to win a $1 million suit against Junta member Admiral Emilio Massera;  and the Archive's director of the Southern Cone Documentation Project, Carlos Osorio, who has published numerous briefing books and prepared analyses of declassified documents on behalf of judges and human rights groups in Argentina, Uruguay and Europe.



The Documents


Document 1
Early April 1977
[Notes from U.S. State Department Human Rights Coordinator Patricia Derian *]

Returning from a week-long visit to Argentina where she was to impress on Argentine officials the seriousness of the Carter Administration's human rights policy, recently appointed Coordinator for Human Rights Patricia Derian realized there was work to be done at home too, for "[i]t is widely believed by our military and intelligence services that the human rights policy emanates only from the Department of State..." Furthermore, she noted that "[t]hrough these agencies the United States government is sending a dangerous and double message. If this continues, it will subvert our entire human rights policy."

In Buenos Aires, Derian met with Argentine human rights activists, journalists, businessmen and government officials, and the U.S. Embassy Country Team. These are some excerpts from Derian’s conclusions:

"The [Argentine] government method is to pick people up and take them to military installations. There the detainees are tortured with water, electricity and psychological disintegration methods. Those thought to be salvageable are sent to regular jails and prisons where the psychological process is continued on a more subtle level. Those found to be incorrigible are murdered and dumped on garbage heaps or street corners, but more often are given arms with live ammunition, grenades, bombs and put into automobiles and sent out of the compound to be killed on the road in what is then reported publicly to be a shootout or response to an attack on some military installation.

...

THE U.S MILITARY & OUR INTELLIGENCE AGENCIES
Through these agencies the United States government is sending a dangerous and double message. If this continues, it will subvert our entire human rights policy.

It is widely believed by our military and intelligence services that the human rights policy emanates only from the Department of State, is a political device and one with a short life due to its wide impracticality, the naiveté and ignorance of individuals in the Administration and to the irresponsible headline grabbing of members of Congress.

This is the signal problem our government has in human rights. The only hope we have to gain support for our initiatives and to advance the cause of human rights is to make sure that governments understand that we are serious, and committed to our human rights policies.

If they believe and are told by U.S. government officials that we are not serious and committed, they are going to try to wait us out.
...

RECOMMENDATIONS:
1- That
 the President as Commander in Chief send a message to all branches of the armed forces stating unequivocally the human rights policy of the U.S. government, which outlines the duty of the military in this regard.

2-That the President instruct the C.I.A., the F.B.I, and all other intelligence agencies on the human rights policy of the U.S. government.

3-That courses in Human Rights be designed and implemented at once in all service academies, military training institutes and intelligence schools, including all purely domestic as well as those with international participants.

4-That those members of the armed forces and intelligence services who cannot comply with U.S. government policies on human rights be immediately separated from their services.”

* Derian's notes were donated to the National Security Archive by Martin Edwin Andersen who first published excerpts from them in his 1993 book "Dossier Secreto: Argentina's Desaparecidos and the Myth of the Dirty War," (Westview Press). The notes and other documents from the "Martin Edwin Andersen Collection" may be consulted at the Archive’s reading room.

Document 2
May 4, 1977
Human Rights: The Key to Our Relations

For Assistant Secretary Terence Todman’s trip to Argentina

In preparation for a trip to Argentina by the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs, this memorandum outlines the U.S. government's stand on the human rights issue and echoes Derian's concerns about past "mixed signals from us on human rights." The following are some excerpts:

"The human rights situation in Argentina bedevils our relations, with the possibility that we may soon have to treat Argentina like Chile or Uruguay. The GOA refuses to acknowledge the names of thousands of political prisoners under detention; disappearances, prolonged periods of incommunication, intimidation of lawyers, instances of anti-Semitism, and the harassment of foreign refugees are undeniable. Summary executions of prisoners were reported as recently as early 1977; torture has been brutal, wide-spread and generally unpunished.

Earlier, the Argentines received mixed signals from us on human rights, in effect giving the GOA the impression that it had carte blanche to pursue terrorism. Repeated representations on behalf of human rights were, therefore, not taken very seriously. It is important to persuade the GOA that the USG is serious about such rights - and there must be cooperation from DOD and CIA."


Document 3
August 11, 1977
First Corps Officers Involved With PEN and Disappeared Cases
Note by Political Officer Tex Harris

As he arrived in Buenos Aires, Embassy political officer Franklyn Allen (Tex) Harris launchds an aggressive research effort to inform the Department of State of the scale of human rights violations in Argentina. For the next two years, Harris' human rights office would report on thousands of victims, as well as on the structure of the repressive apparatus and the perpetrators.

"The following are among the officers of the First Army Corps located in Palermo with responsibilities for PEN detainees and missing persons: Lt. Col. Roarte, Lt. Col. Gatica, and Padre Monson, Chaplain of the First Army Corps. Does anyone know or have any information on these persons?"


Document 4
August 15, 1977
Derian Meeting with Minister of Interior Harguindeguy

During a high-level trip to Argentina in early August that included Assistant Secretary for Inter-American Affairs Terence Todman and Human Rights Coordinator Patricia Derian, Derian met top Argentine military and security officials. On August 10, in separate meetings, Derian confronted Minister of the Interior Harguindeguy and Junta Member and Navy Commander Emilio Massera, on the situation of human rights in Argentina.

"Mrs. Derian started by explaining to the Minister [Harguindeguy] that she was very concerned with the enormous number of people who had disappeared, the number in jail without charges, the number who are simply lost and the number found innocent who remain in jail... She explained that the chief obstacle for returning to normal relations with the US is our concern for the mass of people caught in the system."

"Mrs. Derian said that the instinctive reaction to terrorism is to do what the GOA [Government of Argentina] had done and that it makes the people victims of the state."


Document 5
August 15, 1977
Derian Visit with Admiral Massera


"Mrs. Derian said that many people in the Argentine government had told USG representatives that the Navy is responsible for abuses which occur when people are taken into custody and interrogated…Mrs. Derian said that on her prior visit she had been told that one of the worst interrogation centers was the Navy Mechanical School in Buenos Aires."

In a personal interview with the Archive, Ms. Derian recalls telling Massera, "You and I both know that as we speak, people are being tortured in the next floors." According to Derian, the U.S. note-taker missed this in the memo of the conversation.

Document 6
September 27, 1977
A Time to Support Argentina's Videla

From Assistant Secretary Terence Todman to Secretary Vance

In early September, President Carter met with Junta President Videla in Washington and initiated secret negotiations on the human rights issue. Videla would release most of the 4000 prisoners held under executive order by Christmas 1977, but it is not known what the U.S. would give the Argentines in return. The minutes of the meeting are still classified. A few days later, this heavily excised memo written by Assistant Secretary Todman recommends supporting Videla and scribbled on the side has the words "File Arms Transfers" and the acronym for the Defense Attaché, "DAO" suggesting that the U.S. was considering supplying Argentina with military equipment. At about this time, the U.S. quietly approved "export licenses for submarine periscopes and advisory opinions for the sale of three Chinook helicopters and two Lockheed KC-130 tanker aircraft" to the Argentine military [ Department of State Document, November 3, 1977]

Document 7
December 7, 1977
Ambassador Castro's Meeting With General Viola

From Ambassador Raul Castro to Secretary of State

During their first meeting, on December 5, Army Chief of Staff General Viola suggested to recently appointed U.S. Ambassador Raul Castro that he [Viola] could serve as a direct access channel to Junta President Videla. In the future, Ambassador Castro would seek this high-level access regularly to solve critical diplomatic issues. The Ambassador wrote:

"Looking back on the meeting, it appears that his main objective was to impress upon me the close relationship which he enjoys with president Videla and to offer himself as a conduit to the president.  This channel will be useful for expressing many of our concerns, beginning of course with human rights."

Document 8
August 9, 1978
[Testimony of Assistant Secretary Derian ]

For the Subcommittee on Inter American Affairs, Committee on International Relations, House of Representatives

By the Summer of 1978, the Argentine Junta had not complied with releasing thousands of prisoners, stopping the disappearances, and inviting the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, as promised in secret negotiations with the Carter Administration in exchange for a discreet relaxation of the military transfers’ embargo against the Argentine military. Assistant Secretary Derian testified on the subject before Congress as the Department of State decided to withhold a credit of more than $200 million for the Yacyreta dam project in Argentina.

"The reason for our advice was the continuing violation of basic human rights by Argentina. The systematic use of torture, summary execution of political dissidents, the disappearance and the imprisonment of thousands of individuals without charge, including mothers, churchmen, nuns, labor leaders, journalists, professors and members of human rights organizations, and the failure of the government of Argentina to fulfill its commitment to allow [a] visit by the Inter American Commission on human rights."


Document 9
September 8, 1978
Meeting between the vice president and president Videla
Secret, "Eyes Only" cable from Ambassador Castro to Secretary of State Vance

In early September 1978, Vice-President Walter Mondale and Argentine Junta PresidentVidela  met privately in Rome and reached a new agreement whereby Argentina would make substantial steps toward decreasing the number of prisoners held without charge (then at almost 3,000), stopping the disappearances and allowing an inspection visit by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights in 1979. For its part, the U.S. agreed to release hundreds of millions of dollars in credits to finance the Yacyreta dam project and ease its embargo on military transfers to the Argentine military. In this memo, U.S. Ambassador Raul Castro reports on his exchange of impressions on the Rome meeting with Argentine Army Chief Roberto Viola.

"General viola received me smiling broadly and immediately volunteered the observation that he believed the Rome meeting had gone very well and that he now believed that the US does value its relations with Argentina. I assured him that this has always been the case but that our efforts had not always been well understood. I assured him that we also were delighted with the Rome meeting.”

Viola clearly indicated he had received some positive signals from the USG [U.S. government] referring to the release of FMS [Foreign Military Sales] purchases. He said that this was some indication that the US was serious about wishing better ties with Argentina. He then observed that we would definitely see changes and improvements in the human rights field soon. (We understand another list of about 65 prisoner releases is scheduled for this weekend and that Viola is personally clamping down on counter- terrorist operations in the 1st corps.)"


Document 10
September 26, 1978
Army outlines new anti-subversive procedures

From Ambassador Raul Castro to Secretary of State

According to this cable, Argentine Army Chief Viola reportedly ordered orally that “independent operations, unless specially authorized, were to end.” The ambiguity of the oral orders reveals a key mechanism used later on by commanders and subordinates to deny responsibility for human rights violations during the dirty war. Several declassified documents mention this characteristic of counterinsurgency in Argentina where intelligence and security units were officially granted ample autonomy, thus clouding authorities' and individuals' responsibility for operations.


"A senior Army intelligence source (protect) confidentially informed emboffs that army commander-in-chief Viola orally instructed Army corps commanders and intelligence services that henceforth all arrests of non-terrorist subversives were to be carried out in accordance with existing laws and that "independent" operations, unless specifically authorized, were to end."


Document 11
April 18, 1979
The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo
From Patrick Flood to Assistant Secretary Patricia Derian

Assitant Secretary Derian’s up-front stand before the Generals gained her the respect and affection of many Argentines. In this memo, Patrick Flood, an official in Derian’s Human Rights Bureau visiting Argentina, describes how after joining a march of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, he struggled to explain who he worked for, he said "'I work with Patricia Derian.' That did it. Everyone suddenly smiled, repeated your name, said 'she is our saint, she is our hope', and burst into applause." Here are some extracts from this document.

"Each Thursday afternoon, the Mothers gather in a different church, say the Rosary, and march briefly around the nearest plaza or park. They met in a church near the Embassy during my stay in Buenos Aires. I was told that they had chosen it because of my presence in town. (I had planned to join them anyway, and this made it convenient.) I broke free from an Embassy meeting just in time to see them streaming out of the church. I introduced myself to some of the marchers, and all at once they gathered around me asking questions and telling me about the agony they and thousands of other Argentines are experiencing as a result of the disappearances. Pretty soon all 120-150 marchers (including a few men) had surrounded me, everyone talking at once. Some people assumed I was from the IAHRC, or from the Embassy.
...
I said, no, I am from the Department of State in Washington; I work in the human rights office. Some still seemed to have a little trouble placing me, so I said ‘I work with Patricia Derian.’ That did it. Everyone suddenly smiled, repeated your name, said ‘she is our saint, she is our hope’, and burst into applause
...
I told them I had not come with answers to all of their questions, but had come to express in this public way our solidarity with their cause and our sharing of their grief, and our commitment to do all in our power to advance the cause for which they marched and prayed every week."


Document 12
September 11, 1979
Human Rights - Military View

Memorandum for the Files by U.S. Embassy Political Officer Towsend Freeman

The visit in September 1979 by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights had a tremendous impact within the Argentine military. The visit was seen as a step towards bringing Argentina under democratic rule of law. But the process stirred fears among those involved in the dirty war that the rule of law might bring accountability for human rights violations. In this memo, an Argentine intelligence source informs a U.S. Embassy official that "those most deeply involved in the 'dirty war' are terribly frightened that as the climate returns to normality, they are being moved closer to the time when they must account for their acts and suffer retribution," and that there was talk “about the institution of some sort of amnesty for the security forces--a 'ley de olvidos,'" (a law to forget). The following are some excerpts from that memo.

"The source of the following report is a fairly senior member of a major Argentine military intelligence organization…

The Fundamental Problems:
My source said that he had little hope for Argentina getting permanently out of its current mess barring some major changes in what he affirmed were three fundamental, and in effect structural, problems: a) the police and security forces are untrained in sophisticated investigative practices and think only brutality gets results ; b) the courts are ineffective, corruptible and mediocre. The security forces – like the general public – have no confidence in the rule of law; c) the military has a grossly simplistic attitude towards Marxism. Anybody who criticizes the government is a Marxist

At least as important, he said, is that some of those most deeply involved in the ‘dirty war’ are terribly frightened that as the climate returns to normality, they are being moved closer to the time when they must account for their acts and suffer retribution. On the other hand, if the ‘dirty war’ can be kept going they are protected--and besides, he said" in some cases doing what they like best.

[M]y source was talking about the institution of some sort of amnesty for the security forces--a 'ley de olvidos.' We know that several old-time politicians have discussed the need for a 'ley de olvidos' to help open the road for the eventual return to democracy. In addition reported that some military men are speaking about '1ey de olvidos' as a condition precedent for the military's withdrawal from power."


Document 13
October 1, 1979
Ambassador’s Conversation with Viola, Human Rights Topics

From Ambassador Raul Castro to Secretary of State
 
Meeting Army Chief Viola on September 25, the Ambassador asked about a recent spate of disappearances, in particular one involving two Montoneros, Mendizabal and Croatto. Viola responded,  "Mendizabal and Croatto were terrorists... who were eliminated – ‘with my authorization." The visit in September 1979 by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights marked the culmination of a series of steps in the human rights arena that the Argentine military had promised to the U.S. The Embassy and Department of State congratulated themselves for this accomplishment. In addition to the visit, the U.S. Embassy reported that great numbers of prisoners had been released through the year and that disappearances had practically stopped. But as the Commission visit proceeded, disappearances erupted again. This document shows the moral and political predicament in which Ambassador Castro is placed in dealing with the Argentine military hierarchy. There are no other declassified documents showing  the Department of State's response to Viola's revelation.
 

"Disappearances: The ambassador tackled Viola on the remarkable number of disappearances in the past six weeks. Viola responded directly to only three cases. Mendizabal and Croatto were terrorists, he said, who were eliminated – ‘with my authorization,’ Viola added -- in the course of their attempts to carry out ten assassinations in Argentina. Others of this ilk could expect the same treatment."

 
Document 14
April 28, 1983

Argentine Government's Report on the Dirty War
[English Summary]
Cable from U.S. Ambassador Harry Schlaudeman to the Secretary of State
Documento Final de la Junta Militar Sobre la Guerra Contra la Subversión y el Terrorismo
[Full original in Spanish]
 

"Summary: the junta released its ‘final’ report on the ‘dirty war’ against subversion on April 28. The report was less than most people expected, being unremorseful in tone and providing no new material. Of course, it also ducked important issues such as who was responsible for the admitted excesses committed while combating terrorism. The report also stated that the armed forces would not give out any more information, that the actions of members of the armed forces during operations conducted in the war shall be considered as ‘acts of service’ and that ‘it was the constitutional government of former president Maria Estela Martinez de Peron that in 1975 granted the military the power to carry out whatever action was necessary in order to annihilate subversive elements nationwide.’ Reaction to the report was overwhelmingly negative… Human rights organizations, other politicians, and trade unionists also harshly criticized the report. We believe that the report was issued now in an attempt to calm concern in military ranks, where there is considerable fear of possible punishment under a civilian government. To take care of such concern, an "institutional act" was also issued on April 28 that may be used to make case for giving military courts exclusive jurisdiction over all military personnel accused of crimes committed during the ‘dirty war’.”

 
Document 15
May 9, 1983
Army Views on Foreign Policy and Accounting for the Disappeared
U.S. Embassy for the Secretary of State. Excerpts of internal Argentine Army document  "Temas Políticos"

Temas Políticos
[Full original in Spanish]
U.S. Embassy Cover Memo

 
A few months before handing over power to a civilian government in December 1983, the Army high command had decided that there would be no accountability for thousands of human rights violations during the dirty war. “Under no circumstances will a review of what was then done be allowed” says this internal Argentine Army memo obtained by the U.S. Embassy through an intelligence source. While acknowledging institutional responsibility, the document shows the military's attempt to exculpate and rationalize the actions of hundreds of perpetrators. The military decided to lay responsibility on the previous Junta Chiefs and high command of the armed forces: "Operations carried out in the struggle against subversion and terrorism were executed in conformity with plans approved and supervised by the chain of command of the armed forces and the military junta." In the years to come, Argentina prosecuted, condemned and pardoned former Junta leaders and passed laws shielding perpetrators for having received orders and proscribing further prosecutions on the dirty war.
 

"A regular contact of this mission who has proven reliable in the past provided us with a document which he claims was prepared by the army. We think it is probably the work of the Army Secretary General’s office, the political advisory staff of the Commander-in-Chief.
...…
Excerpts of the report, which is a schematic outline, follow: quote:

Sequel to the struggle against terrorism--the disappeared… The stance of the institution is clear:
 
-- Operations carried out in the struggle against subversion and terrorism were executed in conformity with plans  approved and supervised by the chain of command of the armed forces and the military junta,
 
-- Under no circumstances will a review of what was then done be allowed, since it is the competence of military justice to investigate infractions that may have been perpetrated in this struggle by military, security, police or penitentiary personnel
 
-- Insisting on the issue of the disappeared will disturb the normal evolution of the institutionalization process"

 
 

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