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December 08, 2003

Newly Declassified Transcript Proves Kissinger Gave OK for Argentine Death Squads in 'War on Terrorism'

Kissinger to Argentines on Dirty War: 'The Quicker You Succeed the Better' (12/4/03 - National Security Archive EBB #104)

From the National Security Archive: Newly declassified State Department documents obtained by the National Security Archive under the Freedom of Information Act show that in October 1976, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and high ranking U.S. officials gave their full support to the Argentine military junta and urged them to hurry up and finish the "dirty war" before the U.S. Congress cut military aid. A post-junta truth commission found that the Argentine military had "disappeared" at least 10,000 Argentines in the so-called "dirty war" against "subversion" and "terrorists" between 1976 and 1983; human rights groups in Argentina put the number at closer to 30,000.

The new documents are two memoranda of conversations (memcons) with the visiting Argentine foreign minister, Admiral Cesar Augusto Guzzetti - one with Kissinger himself on October 7, 1976. At the time, the U.S. Congress was about to approve sanctions against the Argentine regime because of widespread reports of human rights abuses by the junta.

The memcons contradict the official line given by Assistant Secretary of State Harry Shlaudeman in response to complaints from the U.S. ambassador in Buenos Aires that Guzzetti had come back "euphoric" and "convinced that there is no real problem with the USG [US government]" over human rights. Schlaudeman cabled, "Guz;etti [sic] heard only what he wanted to hear."

According to the memcon's verbatim transcript, Secretary of State Kissinger interrupted the Foreign Minister's report on the situation in Argentina and said "Look, our basic attitude is that we would like you to succeed. I have an old-fashioned view that friends ought to be supported. What is not understood in the United States is that you have a civil war. We read about human rights problems but not the context. The quicker you succeed the better... The human rights problem is a growing one. Your Ambassador can apprise you. We want a stable situation. We won't cause you unnecessary difficulties. If you can finish before Congress gets back, the better. Whatever freedoms you could restore would help."

One day earlier, on October 6, 1976, Admiral Guzzetti had been told by Acting Secretary of State Charles W. Robinson "that it is possible to understand the requirement to be tough." But Robinson also remarked on the "question of timing of the relaxation of extreme countersubversion measures" before Congress voted sanctions on Argentina. The memcon with Robinson goes on to note that "[t]he Acting Secretary said… The problem is that the United States is an idealistic and moral country and its citizens have great difficulty in comprehending the kinds of problems faced by Argentina today. There is a tendency to apply our moral standards abroad and Argentina must understand the reaction of Congress with regard to loans and military assistance. The American people, right or wrong, have the perception that today there exists in Argentina a pattern of gross violations of human rights."

Beginning in September 1976, the U.S. ambassador to Argentina, Robert Hill, had been pressing the Argentine military on human rights issues, amid a dramatic increase in the number of victims being disappeared, killed and tortured, including half a dozen American citizens. The Argentine generals dismissed Ambassador Hill's demarches, according to previously declassified cables written by Hill, and alluded to an understanding with high ranking U.S. officials "that the USG's overriding concern was not human rights but rather that GOA 'get it over quickly.'"

After Admiral Guzzetti returned from Washington, Ambassador Hill wrote "a sour note" from Buenos Aires complaining that he could hardly present human rights demarches if the Argentine Foreign Minister did not hear the same message from the Secretary of State. Guzzetti had told Hill that "[t]he Secretary… had urged Argentina 'to be careful' and had said that if the terrorist problem was over by December or January, he (the Secretary) believed serious problems could be avoided in the U.S..." Wrote Ambassador Hill, "Guzzetti went to U.S. fully expecting to hear some strong, firm, direct warnings on his government's human rights practices, rather than that, he has returned in a state of jubilation, convinced that there is no real problem with the USG over that issue."

Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs Harry W. Shlaudeman, who attended both the Kissinger and the Robinson meetings with Guzzetti, responded to Hill on behalf of Kissinger with a cable that directly misrepresented the actual conversations recorded in the memcons: "As in other circumstances you have undoubtedly en countered in your diplomatic career, Guz;etti [sic] heard only what he wanted to hear. He was told in detail how strongly opinion in this country has reacted against reports of abuses by the security forces in Argentina and the nature of the threat this poses to argentine interests… [T]he USG regards most seriously Argentina's international commitments to protect and promote fundamental human rights. There should be no mistake on that score…"

A final note from Hill shows that the Ambassador was appeased by the strong response from Washington. "Your message on Guzzetti's visit was most helpful. It is reassuring to have chapter and verse on what Guzzetti was told. We will keep after him and other GOA officials," Hill wrote. There is no evidence that Ambassador Hill ever saw the actual transcripts of the conversations with Guzzetti included here.

The two new memorandums of conversation (memcons) were not among the 4700 documents released in August 2002 by the Argentina Declassification Project of the U.S. Department of State. Much to the credit of Secretary of State Colin Powell and his predecessor, Madeleine Albright, who began the project, that release made front page news in Argentina, contributed dramatically to civilian control of the military, provided documentation on military decisionmaking now being used in dozens of court cases related to the "dirty war," and for some of the families of the "disappeared," gave the first available evidence of what had actually happened to their loved ones.

The State Department project, however, did not included documents from the often-vigorous internal U.S. policy debates over Argentina; and neither the CIA nor the Pentagon participated in the declassification effort. The National Security Archive obtained the new memcons in November 2003 in response to a Freedom of Information Act request filed with the Department of State in November 2002, seeking to fill in the missing pieces from the larger release.

In the following selection of documents, the memoranda of conversations Guzzetti had at the Department of State are preceded by two cables from Ambassador Hill reporting on the fruitless human rights demarches he had made to Admiral Guzzetti and President Jorge Rafael Videla in September, together with the contemporaneous Department of State intelligence analysis of the counter-terrorism practices of Argentine military, and the testimony of an American citizen tortured by the Argentine security forces.

The torture report was written after an interview with the victim on October 4, 1976 by the same U.S. official, Fernando Rondon, who served as the notetaker at the October 7, 1976 Kissinger-Guzzetti meeting.

[Read the source...]

On Dec. 4, the Miami Herald ran the following article about the Kissinger transcript on its front page:


Transcript: US OK'd 'dirty war' in Argentina

New evidence suggests that Henry Kissinger gave the Argentine military 'a green light' in its 1970s-80s campaign against leftists.

By Daniel A. Grech


BUENOS AIRES - At the height of the Argentine military junta's bloody "dirty war" against leftists in the 1970s, then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger told the Argentine foreign minister that "we would like you to succeed," a newly declassified US document reveals.

The transcript of the meeting between Kissinger and Navy Adm. CÚsar Augusto Guzzetti in New York on Oct. 7, 1976, is the first documentary evidence that the Gerald Ford administration approved of the junta's harsh tactics, which led to the deaths or "disappearance" of some 30,000 people from 1975 to 1983.

The document is also certain to further complicate Kissinger's legacy, which has been questioned in recent years as new evidence has emerged on his connection to human-rights violations around the world -- including in Chile, Indonesia and Bangladesh.

Kissinger and several top deputies have repeatedly denied condoning human-rights abuses in Argentina.

DIPLOMATIC CABLES

Among the 4,667 US documents declassified by the State Department last year were diplomatic cables showing that the Argentine military believed it had Kissinger's approval. The information was requested by the families of the junta's victims and human-rights groups.

A transcript of the 1976 Kissinger-Guzzetti meeting was declassified recently under a Freedom of Information Request by the National Security Archive, a nonprofit research organization based in Washington. The document was made available to The Herald on Wednesday and will be presented at a conference on US-Argentine relations during the dirty war today in Buenos Aires.

"Look, our basic attitude is that we would like you to succeed," Kissinger reassured Guzzetti in the seven-page transcript, marked SECRET. "I have an old-fashioned view that friends ought to be supported. What is not understood in the United States is that you have a civil war. We read about human rights problems but not the context. The quicker you succeed, the better."

'DEFINITIVE EVIDENCE'

"This is final, definitive evidence that Kissinger gave a green light to Argentine generals," said Carlos Osorio, director of the Argentina Documentation Project at the National Security Archive.

The Argentine military began its war against leftist guerrillas and suspected sympathizers in 1975, before taking power in a coup the following year. By the time of the conversation between Kissinger and Guzzetti, the machinery of murder and disappearances had received worldwide condemnation and the US Congress was considering economic sanctions.

Guzzetti assured Kissinger that the "struggle" against "terrorist organizations" would be finished by the end of 1976. But a 1983 report by an Argentine truth commission showed that the killings accelerated in late 1976 and continued for two more years.

"This document is a devastating indictment of Kissinger's policy toward Latin America," said John Dinges, an assistant professor at Columbia Journalism School and author of The Condor Years, a book on military dictatorships in the Southern Cone due out in February. "Kissinger actually encourages human-rights violations in full consciousness of what was going on."

A VINDICATION

The transcript also vindicates the then-US ambassador to Argentina, Robert Hill, who in late 1976 began pressing the Argentine military on human-rights issues but was told by Argentine officials that Washington was supporting them.

"Guzzetti went to the US fully expecting to hear some strong, firm, direct warnings on his government's human rights practices," Hill wrote in a cable. "Rather than that, he has returned in a state of jubilation."

"All along they denied this," Dinges said. "Now, finally, we have Kissinger's actual words giving the green light."


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