Washington, March 18, 2016 – As President Obama prepares to go to Argentina next week on the 40th anniversary of the military coup, the National Security Archive hailed his decision to declassify hundreds of still secret CIA and Defense Department records on the repression during the military dictatorship. The special declassification was announced yesterday by National Security Advisor Susan Rice who said that “to underscore our shared commitment to human rights,” President Obama would “announce a comprehensive effort to declassify additional documents including for the first time military and intelligence records.”
The declassification project comes as human rights groups in Argentina are commemorating the upcoming anniversary of the coup on March 24, 1976, which ushered in an era of extreme repression. During the seven-year military dictatorship that followed, more than 20,000 Argentines were kidnapped, executed and disappeared by state security forces.
By announcing the declassification on such a significant date, according to Archive analyst Carlos Osorio, the Obama administration has demonstrated “tangible and concrete U.S. support for the pursuit of human rights and justice in Argentina.” President Obama’s use of “declassified diplomacy” to reach out to human rights victims, Osorio stated, “would be received as a gesture that opens paths of friendship and respect in the heart of Argentina.”
The Obama declassification project builds on a previous effort to release records during the Clinton administration. After President Clinton authorized a special declassification project on Chile in 1999 and 2000, the National Security Archive assisted the Abuelas de la Plaza de Mayo and the Argentine Embassy in crafting a request to the U.S. government for a similar project on Argentina. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright agreed to order the review and release of State Department records and some 4700 documents were eventually declassified early in the Bush administration. But the CIA, Defense Department and FBI did not participate in the Argentina declassification--leaving thousands of the most detailed intelligence records on repression still secret and inaccessible for use by victims’ families in Argentina to hold former military officials accountable for their human rights crimes.
The CIA, Defense Department and FBI documents that the Obama Administration will now review for release are likely to shed significant light on the detailed U.S. knowledge of the repression during the dictatorship. According to documents obtained by the National Security Archive through the Freedom of Information Act and research, the new military regime believed they had “the green light” from then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger for repression. In a secret memorandum of conversation obtained under the FOIA by Osorio, only ten weeks after the coup Kissinger told the military’s foreign minister, "If there are things that have to be done, you should do them quickly.” After the U.S. Ambassador, Robert Hill, issued a demarche to the military regime for its escalating human rights atrocities, according to another document obtained through the FOIA, Kissinger demanded to know "in what way is it [the demarche] compatible with my policy." "I want to know who did this and consider having him transferred," he informed his top aide on Latin America, Harry Shlaudeman.
To provide a historical context for the President’s decision to declassify more records on Argentina, the National Security Archive today posted a unique collection of documents that reveal initial support by Kissinger for the abuses of the Argentine generals. After being told during a staff meeting only two days after the coup “to expect a fair amount of repression, probably a good deal of blood, in Argentina,” Kissinger issued instructions on U.S. policy toward the new military junta: "Whatever chance they have, they will need a little encouragement … because I do want to encourage them. I don't want to give the sense that they're harassed by the United States."