How nice that House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, a Republican Congressman from
Alabama Michigan, and 206 of his House GOP colleagues live in a country where political opponents are not disappeared, tortured, or murdered in the dead of night, their children stolen to be brought up by the very intelligence officers that disappeared them.
So maybe Rogers didn’t appreciate the criminal absurdity of his comments to the Washington Post on Friday May 13, after a House vote defeated a proposed amendment by Democratic Rep. Maurice Hinchey (NY) on the declassification of U.S. intelligence files regarding the 1976 Argentine generals coup and the bloody seven year dictatorship that followed. According to the Post, Rogers “said declassifying them would distract U.S. spies from the fight against al-Qaida.”
A similar Congressional vote for declassification of documents related to Chile, in a 1999 amendment by Rep. Hinchey, which passed, led to the release of over 24,000 documents, and to accelerated investigations and prosecutions of state crimes in Chile. But the GOP, which voted largely on party lines to defeat the amendment on declassification of documents related to Argentina, made this vote into a bogus stand in support of the “war on terror.”
The vote comes only weeks after a trial has opened in Argentina, placing into the dock two former Argentine dictators, Jorge Videla and Reynaldo Bignone, for literally stealing babies during what has become known as Argentina’s “Dirty War.” A recently released document available via National Security Archive shows that the Chilean intelligence attaché to Buenos Aires estimated the number of dead and disappeared in Argentina as over 22,000 between 1975 and 1978 (original document PDF).
The Jurist summarized the baby stealing case against the dictators:
The two are accused in 34 separate cases of infants who were taken from mothers held in clandestine torture and detention centers, the Navy Mechanics School and Campo de Mayo army base. The case was opened 14 years ago at the request of Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, and includes as defendants five military judges and a doctor who attended to the detainees. The trial is expected to hear 370 witnesses and last up to a year. With the help of the Grandmothers’ DNA database, 102 people born to vanished detainees have recovered their true identities.
This is not the first trial of the criminal leaders of the former Argentine junta. Former Argentine dictator Jorge Rafael Videla was sentenced last year to life in prison for crimes against humanity. And just recently a former agent of the Argentine Secretariat of State Intelligence (SIDE), Miguel Angel Furci, was arrested and charged with human rights abuses, including kidnapping and torture. His trial starts this June. And there have been others brought up on charges and/or convicted as well.
The baby stealing charges are a particularly sickening part of the Dirty War history. As an AP story explained it, “the existence of babies belonging to people who officially no longer existed created a problem for the junta leaders.” So the solution was to falsify documents and arrange “illegal adoptions by people sympathetic to the military regime.” According to the indictment, there were hundreds of such “adoptions.”
American Complicity: You Can Run But You Can’t Hide
The U.S. support for the Argentinian junta and Dirty War was part of a larger program known as Operation Condor, which operated throughout the Southern Cone, and was responsible for death squads and torture and a reign of terror throughout Latin America, as the right-wing operations spread northward into Central America in the 1980s.
Even though the U.S. government still seeks to hide documents implicating U.S. intelligence and other state agencies from complicity in the terrible crimes in Argentina, some documents have been released over the years. There’s a goodly collection of them at the National Security Archive website.
The documents include a formerly secret transcript of Henry Kissinger’s staff meeting during which he ordered immediate U.S. support for the new military regime, and Defense and State Department reports on the ensuing repression. The Archive has also obtained internal memoranda and cables from the infamous Argentina intelligence unit, Battalion 601, as well as the Chilean secret police agency, known as DINA, which was secretly collaborating with the military in Buenos Aires.
The documents record Washington’s initial reaction to the military takeover. “I do want to encourage them. I don’t want to give the sense that they’re harassed by the United States,” Secretary of State Kissinger ordered his staff after his assistants warned him that the junta would initiate a bloodbath following the coup. According to the transcript, Kissinger’s top deputy on Latin America, William Rogers, told him two days after the coup that “we’ve got to expect a fair amount of repression, probably a good deal of blood, in Argentina before too long.”
Regarding that last quote, what Rogers actually said in full, according to the transcript (PDF) of Kissinger’s March 26, 1976 staff meeting, and following upon a discussion of how the regime would need U.S. financial support: “I think also we’ve got to expect a fair amount of repression, probably a good deal of blood, in Argentina before too long. I think they’re going to have to come down not only on the terrorists but on the dissidents of trade unions and their parties.”
Kissinger then tells Rogers, who suggests the U.S. might want to hold off on recognition of the junta, that he wants to “encourage” the generals: “I don’t want to give the sense that they’re harassed by the United States.” Rogers then rushes to assure him his reasoning wasn’t humanitarian, but simply that he was concerned about “public posture.”
The U.S. government is complicit in war crimes that have killed and tortured and disappeared many, many thousands of people, millions going back to Vietnam. But the U.S. population appears to be largely untouched by these crimes, insensate, living in fear, or complacent… it’s hard to say. In any case, those in this country, like Rep. Hinchey, and the many fine workers in human and civil rights organizations, will have to keep pounding on these issues.
Note: Eighteen Republicans did vote for Hinchey’s amendment, and seven Democrats voted against it. Twenty-three were listed as “Not Voting,” including, surprisingly, two liberal Democratic congresswomen from the Bay Area, Zoe Lofgren and Jackie Speier.