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May 2011, Week 4

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Tue, 24 May 2011 21:27:50 -0400
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Keeping "Secrets and Lies" on Argentina's Past

By César Chelala and Alejandro Garro
CommonDreams.org
May 24, 2011 

http://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/05/24-3

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.

[César Chelala, MD, PhD, is a co-winner of an Overseas Press
Club of America award. He is also the foreign correspondent
for Middle East Times International (Australia). 

Alejandro M. Garro teaches Comparative Law at Columbia Law
School and sits at advisory board of Human Rights
Watch/Americas, the Center for Justice and International Law,
and the Due Process of Law Foundation.] 

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