A law to forget
By Dr George Venturini
Heinz Alfred ‘Henry’ Kissinger obtained a Ph.D. at Harvard University in 1954. His interest was on Castelreagh and Metternich – two empire builders. He devoted his life to sublimate them.
In an incendiary, studiedly defamatory book the late Christopher Hitchens described him as “a mediocre and opportunist academic [intent on] becoming an international potentate. The signature qualities were there from the inaugural moment: the sycophancy and the duplicity; the power worship and the absence of scruple; the empty trading of old non-friends for new non-friends. And the distinctive effects were also present: the uncounted and expendable corpses; the official and unofficial lying about the cost; the heavy and pompous pseudo-indignation when unwelcome questions were asked. Kissinger’s global career started as it meant to go on. It debauched the American republic and American democracy, and it levied a hideous toll of casualties on weaker and more vulnerable societies.”
The story is all here: from the martyrdom of Indochina to becoming the real backchannel to Moscow on behalf of his new client: Donald Trump.
Editor’s note: This outstanding series by Dr Venturini is published bi-weekly (Wednesdays and Saturdays). Today we publish Part Fourteen. Here is the link to Part Thirteen; Another ‘dirty war’.
Between 8 and 10 December 1977 Azucena Villaflor de Vicenti, along with eleven members and friends of the Asociación Madres de Plaza de Mayo (Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo) were kidnapped by Argentine government forces and never seen again. (The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo is an association of Argentine mothers whose children were ‘disappeared’ by the military dictatorship. They organised while trying to learn what had happened to their children, and began to march in 1977 at the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires, in front of the Casa Rosada presidential palace, in public defiance of the Junta’s terrorism intended to silence all opposition). De Vicenti had helped found the group of mothers of victims precisely because of this new type of atrocity: those kidnapped and then ‘disappeared’ by security forces.
A review by the National Security Archive of the Department of State’s documents on Argentina declassified around 2001-2002 revealed that as early as ten days after the ‘disappearances’ the U.S. Embassy intelligence sources started reporting on the involvement of the Argentine Navy, the Army First Corps, and later the Presidential State Intelligence Service and a military detention facility in the crime and cover up.
On 30 March 1978 the U.S. Embassy informed having “[c]onfidential information obtained through an Argentine government source (protect) that seven bodies were discovered some weeks ago on the Atlantic beach near Mar del Plata. According to this source, the bodies were those of the two nuns and five mothers who disappeared between December 8 and December 10, 1977. Our source confirmed that these individuals were originally sequestered by members of the security forces…”
It is known that the twelve ‘disappeared’ victims were detained and tortured at the Navy Mechanical School. One of the most dramatic documents in this selection is an eyewitness’ detailed description and sketches of the unit’s clandestine centre, torture chambers, and chain of command. A detainee himself, the eyewitness also reported seeing and talking to one of the French nuns who were part of the Mothers group. The document was circulated to foreign press and the Embassies in 1977.
The string of numerous cables between December 1977 and March 1978 attests to the U.S. Embassy’s considerable efforts to find and protect the kidnapped Mother’s group members.
“We have tried hard to clarify the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of two French nuns and some 11 other Argentine citizens in a series of abductions December 8-10. Our findings are contradictory and inconclusive, and the fact remains that at this writing we have no sure knowledge regarding the nuns’ abductors or their – present whereabouts – our sources generally agree that the operation was carried out by some arm of the security forces…” (Document 5, 20 January 1978, Disappearance of French Nuns and Mothers’ Group Supporters, Telegram from Ambassador Castro to Department of State).
The documents also show that Embassy staffers were split on whether to blame the Argentine Military. In one memorandum, a political officer in charge of human rights at the Embassy, frustrated at the Embassy’s failure to blame the Military Junta for the crime, wrote:
“I presented a full description of what had happened to [the mothers]. This was voted down by the country team as being mere speculation and the Embassy once again stated that we continued to be puzzled by the disappearance of the nuns… Although the country team is puzzled regarding the nuns disappearance, based on the facts presented it is clear by [blank] of the circumstantial evidence that this is not an out of control operation… I have done a number of cables which tied in reported events to targeting by the Argentine security forces of individuals for intellectual subversion. This has been taken out of all of messages going out. Just this week one of our military attaché had one of his reports turned back by the front office … “ (Document 16, 31 May 1978 – [Human Rights Overview] Transcription of cassette audio report from Political Officer Tex Harris to Assistant Secretary of State Pat Derian).
On learning from the U.S. Embassy of the heinous death of the Mothers, the Department of State instructed the Embassy to present a démarche before President Videla.
“Department believes we must act forcefully now to make [the Government of Argentina] aware of our outrage at such acts… Ambassador should continue presentation by suggesting that [the Government of Argentina] consider actions which can be taken against the people who committed this crime. They should be brought to trial and if some in authority winked at the crime those involved should be disciplined.” (Document 10, 7 April 1978 – Report of Nuns Death, Telegram from Secretary of State Cyrus Vance to Ambassador Castro).
The United States Ambassador Raul Castro did present a démarche but then the U.S. followed the path of the French and the Catholic Church, as well as Ambassador Castro’s suggestions of not pressing for accountability of the ‘disappeared’. The declassified documents show that the issue of finding and punishing those responsible for the mothers’ and nuns’ assassination was dropped from further human rights discussion between the United States and Argentina.
In Document 8, dated 28 March 1978, Ambassador Castro foresaw what would happen after the Argentine government issued a final list of detainees which did not account for thousands of ‘disappeared’:
“The one-issue groups, such as the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, will clamor for the government to make an accounting for the missing. The issue will be increasingly and dramatically reported internationally… [But] We should avoid… demanding accountability for the disappeared, since that does nothing directly to eliminate further abuses.”
Document 8 is part of a set of 16 documents, dated between 19 December 1977 and 31 May 1978, concerning human rights violations in Argentina which were selected from the 4,700 declassified by the U.S. Department of State in August 2002 and which were rendered public on 8 December 2002.
The documents were published on the twenty fifth anniversary of the ‘disappearance’ of leaders of the internationally renowned civil disobedience group the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo. The documents show that the Embassy in Buenos Aires had evidence of the Argentine Military Junta’s responsibility in the crime. The United States dedicated substantial resources to establish the whereabouts of the victims and protect their lives, but once it learned they had been killed, it dropped the demand to the Junta to find and punish the perpetrators and discipline officers condoning it.
Declassification and release of documents would continue. On 28 May 2003 another, and this time quite lengthy, document was placed on the website. Titled “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.
A two page summary introduces the fifteen documents attached.
The documents clearly show 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 [Department of Defense] and CIA.”
On that 28 March 2003 the National Security Archive at George Washington University 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 [Department of Defense] and CIA.“
The revelations were contained in a series of the already mentioned fifteen 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 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.
The documents (1 to 13) are dated from early April 1977, and with some degree of continuity semble, to 1 October 1979, covering the period of the Carter Administration (1977-1981), when Cyrus Vance was the Secretary of State. He had succeeded Kissinger who held that position between September 1973 and January 1977. Document 14 and 15 are dated 28 April 2003 and 9 May 2003, respectively. George W. Bush was in the White House during that time, and his Secretary of State was Colin Powell.
Telegrammes included in the selection report how Mrs. 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 [Government of Argentina] had done and that it makes the people victims of the state.”
The documents are complemented by Mrs. Derian’s notes, as Assistant Secretary for Human Rights, 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.”
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 [U.S. government] referring to the release of [Foreign Military Sales] purchases.”
A 1979 telegramme 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 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 which 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.”
Organised by the National Security Archive and sponsored by the Latin America Studies Association, 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, National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 73 – Part II, Edited by Carlos Osorio); researcher Valeria Barbuto of the Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales in Buenos Aires, who talked about the Centro’s 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.
Some excerpts from the documents must be quoted – if at length – to understand the extent of human rights’ violations during the years 1976-1983 in Argentina.
As Document 1 (early April 1977) records, 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, then recently appointed Coordinator for Human Rights Patricia Derian realised that there was work to be done at home too, for – she would write – “[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, Mrs. 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.
With reference to the United States military and American intelligence agencies, she would write: “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.”
Mrs. Derian recommended:
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.”
Document 2 (4 May 1977) contains a memorandum prepared in preparation for a trip to Argentina by the Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs Terence Todman, to outline the U.S. government’s stand on the human rights issue. The memorandum echoes Mrs. 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 [Government of Argentina] 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 [Government of Argentina] 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 [Government of Argentina] that the [United States Government] is serious about such rights – and there must be cooperation from [Department of Defense] and CIA.”
Document 3 (11 August 1977) records that, as he arrived in Buenos Aires, Embassy political officer Franklyn Allen (Tex) Harris launched 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.
He would ask such questions as: “The following are among the officers of the First Army Corps located in Palermo with responsibilities for PEN [Prison Writing Programme] 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?”
As Document 4 (15 August 1977) attests the Assistant Secretary for Inter-American Affairs Terence Todman and the Human Rights Coordinator Mrs. Derian, Derian were parties to a new mission to meet top Argentine military and security officials. On 10 August, in separate meetings, Mrs. Derian confronted the Minister of the Interior Harguindeguy and the Junta Member and Navy Commander Emilio Massera, on the situation of human rights in Argentina. Here is part of the record:
“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 [Government of Argentina] had done and that it makes the people victims of the state.”
Mrs. Derian paid a visit to Admiral Emilio Eduardo Massera, a leading participant in he the coup. In 1981 he was found to be a member of P2 9a neo-Fascist secret organisationon set up in Italy. Massera was regarded by the Junta as essential to the ‘dirty war’ st [sic] against political opponents. Document 5 (15 August 1977) records Mrs. Derian as in saying, in conversation with Massera,
“that many people in the Argentine government had told [the United States Government] 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 at the Archive, Mrs. Derian recalled telling Massera: “You and I both know that as we speak, people are being tortured in the next floors.” According to Mrs. Derian, the American note-taker had missed this in the memorandum of the conversation.
Document 6 (27 September 1977) contains a report from the Assistant Secretary Todman to Secretary of State Vance on what follows: in early September President Carter had met with Junta President Videla in Washington and initiated secret negotiations on the human rights issue. Videla would release most of the 4,000 prisoners held under executive order by Christmas 1977, but it is not known what the U.S. would have given the Argentines in return.
The minutes of the meeting are still classified. A few days later after the encounter, according to the heavily redacted memorandum, written by Todman, the Administration recommended supporting Videla and the document carries a scribble on the side with 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 the same 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. (See: Department of State Document, 2 November 1977).
The newly appointed Ambassador Raul Castro reported (Document 7, 7 December 1977) to the Secretary of State Vance about his first meeting on 5 December 1977 with Army Chief of Staff General Viola. Viola had suggested to Ambassador Castro that he [Viola] could serve as a direct access channel to Junta President Videla. In the future Ambassador Castro might have sought such a 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.”
By the middle 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.
As Document 8 (9 August 1978) shows, Assistant Secretary Derian testified on the subject before Congress as the Department of State decided to withhold a credit of more than US$ 200 million for the Yacyreta dam project in Argentina.
In a testimony for the Subcommittee on Inter American Affairs, Committee on International Relations, House of Representatives Mrs. Derian said:
“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 (8 September 1978) records that in early September 1978 Vice-President Walter Mondale and Argentine Junta President Videla met privately in Rome and reached a new agreement whereby Argentina would make substantial steps towards 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 United States 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 a memorandum collected in Document 9 (8 September 1978) the United States Ambassador Raul Castro reported 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 [United States Government] referring to the release of 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).”
According to a cable dated 26 September 1978 (Document 10), from Ambassador Raul Castro to the Secretary of State, 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 mentioned this characteristic of counter-insurgency in Argentina where intelligence and security units were officially granted ample autonomy, thus clouding authorities’ and individuals’ responsibility for operations.
As the Document recites: “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.”
Assistant Secretary Derian’s up-front stand before the Junta’s generals gained her the respect and affection of many Argentines.
In a memorandum dated 18 April 1979, Patrick Flood, an official in Mrs. Derian’s Human Rights Bureau visiting Argentina, writing to Mrs. Derian, described how after joining a march of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, he struggled to explain whom 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 Document 11:
“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 [Latin American Human Rights Commission], 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.”
The visit in September 1979 by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights had a tremendous impact within the Argentine military. (Document 12, 11 September 1979). 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 a memorandum for the files by Townsend Freeman, the U.S. Embassy Political Officer, an Argentine intelligence source had informed ‘as 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 memorandum:
“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 (1 October 1979) records, for the benefit of the Secretary of State, a conversation between the U.S. Ambassador and Army Chief Viola at a meeting on 25 September dealing with human rights matters. 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 a great numbers of prisoners had been released through the year and that ‘disappearances’ had practically stopped.
But, as the Commission visit proceeded ‘disappearances’ began 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.”
No other documents, dated between October 1979 and April 1983, were made available to the public.
The next declassified documents are dated, respectively, 28 April and 9 May 1983.
Document 14 (28 April 1983) contains a cable from U.S. Ambassador Harry Schlaudeman to the Secretary of State. The English summary is titled ‘Argentine Government’s Report on the Dirty War; the full original is in Spanish, and has a much more precise title: ‘Documento Final de la Junta Militar Sobre la Guerra Contra la Subversión y el Terrorismo – Final document of the Military Junta on the war against subversion and terrorism.’
“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 Martínez de Perón which 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 which may be used to make case for giving military courts exclusive jurisdiction over all military personnel accused of crimes committed during the ‘dirty war’.”
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 memorandum obtained by the U.S. Embassy through an intelligence source. Document 15, 9 May 1993 is a U.S. Embassy ‘cover memo’; it was prepared by U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires for the benefit of the Secretary of State: ‘[Argentine] Army Views on Foreign Policy and Accounting for the Disappeared’, and accompanies excerpts of the internal Argentine Army document ‘Temas Políticos’ – the full original being in Spanish.
While acknowledging institutional responsibility, the document shows the military’s attempt to exculpate and rationalise 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 which followed 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’.
As the document concludes:
“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 which 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.”
Next installment Wednesday: Dirty warriors in a dirty war.
Dr. Venturino Giorgio (George) Venturini, formerly an avvocato at the Court of Appeal of Bologna, devoted some sixty years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. He may be reach at George.Venturini@bigpond.com.au.
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Dr. Venturino Giorgio Thank You, for trying. The major problem, is that you are talking about history past., to people, to whom, it does not interest.
The greed that is “Kissingers”., is not unlike our own greed for that, which benefits ourself.
These are the real concerns of humanity. Not the personal, WIIFM, people who are intent on their own world. The crime is more than itself, the greater part is the fact, that the world, does not seem to care.
But, Doctor, dare have a shot at their world, then you will start up a ‘resurrection’.
I Thank you,
PS, Oh! that they profess to care, is another thing. But it is all about Australia. Stuff happening elsewhere is another thing all together.
Mark, I’m glad you’re enjoying this series.
Kissinger should be charged with war crimes.
And yes, this history, but Dr Venturini is revealing the true character of a man who, we will see later in the series, is keen to wrap his tentacles around President Trump.
Thank you Dr Venturini for this harrowingly illuminating series.
This essay is particularly pertinent to me, as I was in Argentina during the early 2000s up to 2005. I was composing a music opera working with many artists and intellectuals. Many shared their stories of life under the Junta and were still very wary of being openly critical.
I look forward to reading your forthcoming essays. Thank you
It’s striking to compare the edict of the Peròn government giving carte blanche to the military and the present day in Australia. In recent years, we’ve witnessed ever increasing draconian laws diminishing civil liberties whilst simultaneously attacking the judiciary and public institutions by the executive government.
The recent establishment of the Home Affairs mega-department with unprecedented powers by the Minister Peter Dutton is a deeply worrying development that augars badly for our democracy.