The New York Times
August 21, 2002

U.S. Releases 1980's Files on Repression in Argentina


WASHINGTON, Aug. 20 The State Department released thousands of
classified documents today that are expected to shed light on a
particularly grim chapter in Argentine history: the military
government's violent repression of leftist insurgents 20 years ago.

The documents, about 4,000 in all, include dispatches, interview
transcripts and intelligence reports produced by the United States
Embassy in Buenos Aires. The material documents some of the systematic
kidnapping, torture and killings of leftists by the military
dictatorship that ruled Argentina from 1976 until 1983 a period known
as the "dirty war."

One embassy dispatch, for example, cites an Argentine source who says
that captured leftist fighters, known as Montoneros, were all dealt with
in the same way, through "torture and summary execution."

"The security forces neither trust nor know how to use legal solutions,"
the dispatch quotes the source as saying. "The present methods are
easier and more familiar."

The documents are expected to assist in the prosecution of former
military officers accused of atrocities during the dirty war. Last
month, an investigative judge ordered the arrest of Gen. Leopoldo
Galtieri, Argentine's former military dictator, and more than 30 other
officers on charges of human rights abuses during that time.

"These documents are one step removed from the killing apparatus," said
Thomas Blanton, director of the National Security Archive at George
Washington University, which pressed for release of the documents. "They
are rich in descriptions of how the killing machine worked."

Officials in Spain and Italy had also requested release of the documents
because they are considering opening cases on behalf of families of
those who were killed or tortured who came from their countries, State
Department officials said.

Argentine officials also expressed hope that the documents might help
several hundred Argentines who were kidnapped, some at birth, to
identify their parents. Many were adopted by military officers after
their parents were killed.

"These documents will not just help in historical debate about what
happened, but they have practical information," Diego Guelar, the
Argentine ambassador to the United States, said in an interview. "You
had hundreds of kids that are basically now young men and women, between
22 and 28 years old, who had their identities robbed."

It is not yet clear how much light the documents will shed on the
internal debates within the Ford and Carter administrations over how to
deal with the human rights abuses in Argentina. Though the embassy in
Buenos Aires during the Carter administration became a repository for
information about the military junta's excesses, its recommendations for
reducing the repression were not always heeded in Washington, experts

A number of rights groups in Argentina have demanded declassification of
the documents for years. At their prodding, Secretary of State Madeleine
K. Albright pledged during a visit to Buenos Aires in 2000 to release
the documents.

The Bush administration continued that effort but delayed releasing the
documents twice: first because of the Sept. 11 attacks and then earlier
this year when Argentina was thrown into political chaos by a severe
economic downturn.