December 16, 2017

Carlos Osorio, director of Southern Cone documentation project, talks to the Herald

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

‘You have to comb through the documents to find the gold nuggets’

By Santiago Del Carril
Herald Staff
Carlos Osorio, director of the Southern Cone documentation project for the non-governmental National Security Archive, is an expert on declassified US documents released about the last military dictatorship. In this Herald telephone interview from Washington DC, he explained the significance of the recent declassification, highlighting the existence of several new documents.

Is there anything new from the documents that were released on Monday?

It’s a thousand pages, with the majority of these declassified documents gathered from different presidential libraries. While many had been already been declassified for a while, there are a couple that are interesting. For instance, several National Security Council recommendations that go up to former national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, and then to the United States president. There are many documents that refer to events that we know occurred, but we haven’t seen until now.

For example?

The meeting between former dictator Jorge Videla and US President Jimmy Carter in September 9, 1977, in where Carter initiated dialogue about human rights. It’s the first time that we see an official document referring to the meeting. Carter tells Videla directly that he is concerned that the issue of the human rights situation could come between the two countries, that the US State Department will send the Argentine government a list of 3,000 disappeared, questions him about forced-disappearances, and calls for the release of (La Opinión newspaper director) Jacobo Timerman.

What other high-level documents stand out?

Well, then you have the 1978 meeting between former US vice-president Walter Mondale and Videla in Rome, which laid the groundwork for the visit of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) in 1979. Then two other interesting documents are from the beginning of 1979, from the White House that receives reports of the terrible human rights conditions in Argentina, informing them that the despite torture reportedly decreasing, the violations are continuing. The US State department recommends implementing sanctions, while (National Security advisor) Brzezinski calls for a “cool and collected” stance without punitive measures. It demonstrates how they weren’t in agreement.

Some human rights leaders said they expected more from the first release of declassified material. Do you agree?

This is a first effort by US President Barack Obama’s administration in contributing historic evidence about the foreign policy they were developing, with documents from the embassy, and how the US department registered the ongoing disappearances. These documents will be used in the trials as they are an impartial analysis that come from the Embassy. There are documents from the Intelligence and Defence departments. But you have to comb through the documents to find those gold nuggets.

The majority of the documents were gathered from presidential libraries, and were declassified years beforehand. Does that really count as being declassified?

Yes, but many people haven’t seen these documents yet, despite the documents having stamps that state they were declassified in 2009 or 2013, they were sitting in presidential libraries. The fact that they gathered them and released them for the public is interesting. The United States government is proactively contributing to the reconstruction of memory and history.

There is a memo that speaks about how former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger went against the Carter administration’s foreign policy objectives when he visited Argentina for the 1978 World Cup. Is that at all new?

This event is known to have taken place, but what you need to understand is that these documents for the first time reveal the internal works, in how they were forming policy. Although the events are already known, it shows different relationships.

How so?

Well, for example. In one document, Roberto Pastor, the director of Latin America in the National Security Advisor’s office, tells Brzezinski how Argentine military officials believed he is the head of a global Jewish conspiracy from Timerman’s account in prison. Now, we already read about this from Timerman’s book, but it’s one thing to hear it from a second-hand account, and another to read from a first-hand source how they directly reviewed this information at the highest levels, their reactions and how it impacted them.

Do you think the next declassification scheduled for this year will be more interesting than the first batch?

I think so, but we need time to really evaluate this. There will be more information to come from the different US agencies. These are documents that were released for the first time by a project that is just beginning to give material to Argentina.


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