Clinton 'Tasks' Release of Chile Secrets
However the legal battle over Gen. Augusto Pinochet ends, the landmark human rights case now appears certain to force out untold chapters of U.S. collusion with Chile's military dictatorship.
That outcome grew more likely after President Clinton issued a formal "tasker" that orders U.S. national security agencies to collect, review and declassify documents about Chilean human rights crimes in the 1970s.
The documents, expected to number in the hundreds, will be made public in the United States and then be available to Spanish Judge Baltazar Garzon who is bringing the torture-murder case against the 83-year-old Pinochet.
The records are also part of a secret history that could embarrass prominent Americans, including former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former President George Bush, who was CIA director in the mid-1970s.
Clinton's "tasker," dated Feb. 1 and entitled "Declassifying Documents Related to Human Rights Abuses in Chile," was recently obtained by this publication.
It directs the departments of State, Defense and Justice, as well as the CIA, to undertake "a compilation and review for release of all documents that shed light on human rights abuses, terrorism and other acts of political violence during and prior to the Pinochet era in Chile."
Clinton ordered the Chilean declassification review to be completed by September, although the first documents could be released as early as June. The directive followed an eight-week debate within the Clinton administration over the scope, timetable and breadth of the review.
In issuing the "tasker," the Clinton administration bent to pressure from Judge Garzon as well as human rights groups and the families of U.S. victims who were killed by Pinochet's security and intelligence agents. One White House aide said Clinton decided that his administration should "declassify what we can, so that we can say we did our share."
But U.S. experts on declassification predict that the CIA and other agencies will continue to withhold many documents, claiming that they are still "national security sensitive." Reed Brody, advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, cautioned that implementation of Clinton's order was crucial.
"The next step is that the agencies fully cooperate in making a complete disclosure of what they have on Pinochet's crimes, and the U.S. knowledge of those crimes," Brody said.
Pressure on the Clinton administration to release the Pinochet papers began soon after British police arrested Pinochet on Oct. 16, 1998, on a Spanish arrest warrant. On Dec. 1, State Department spokesman James Rubin said the United States would "make public as much information as possible, consistent with U.S. laws, and the national security of the United States."
But it was unclear how the Clinton administration would handle the request. Initially, the review was to focus only on U.S. documentation of Pinochet's human rights atrocities as well as acts of international terrorism, including the car-bomb assassination of former Chilean foreign minister Orlando Letelier and American co-worker Ronni Moffitt in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 21, 1976.
But administration officials were concerned about criticism from conservatives who wanted more attention on alleged offenses by the elected Marxist government of Salvador Allende, who was overthrown by Pinochet. So, the White House decided to add to the review the period from 1968, when Allende's political movement was gaining momentum, through his election in 1970 and his death in the 1973 coup.
With the broader scope, some U.S. analysts note that the CIA, Defense Department and National Security Council also will be forced to examine documents on the earlier U.S. efforts to promote a coup in Chile, to block Allende's election, and to destabilize his administration once it took office.
The directive instructs the agencies to "begin with documents from the September 1973-1978 period," but then turn to documents from 1968 to 1973. The directive states that there will be an additional order mandating review of documents from 1979 to 1991.
That later period has grown more important since February because Great Britain's highest court, the Law Lords, ruled on March 24 that Britain c could extradite Pinochet to Spain only for incidents of torture committed after Britain signed the international anti-torture convention in December 1988. Garzon alleges about 50 cases of torture after that date. But, since the Spanish case also accuses Pinochet of engaging in a conspiracy to commit torture, it is possible that the earlier cases still will be relevant to the case. [WP, April 16, 1999]
In pressing ahead with the extradition of Pinochet, the British government rebuffed appeals from prominent American backers of the former dictator as well as from former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
Pinochet's American supporters included former Secretary of State Kissinger, who was an architect of U.S. plans for destroying the Allende government, and former President Bush, who was CIA director in 1976 when Pinochet's intelligence agents entered the United States and carried out the Letelier-Moffitt car-bomb assassination in Washington. [For details, see iF Magazine, Nov.-Dec. 1998 & Jan.-Feb. 1999]
"I would be very happy if Pinochet was allowed home," said Kissinger. "This episode has gone on long enough and all my sympathies are with him." Former President Bush called the case against Pinochet "a travesty of justice." In a letter to Lord Lamont, a Conservative Party member leading the British campaign for Pinochet's freedom, Bush declared that the general should be sent home to Chile "as soon as possible."
Many supporters of Pinochet's freedom have an element of self-interest in a quick end to the case. A thorough examination of Pinochet's alleged crimes could implicate some prominent political figures in the United States and Great Britain. Beyond the human rights abuses, Chile was an important center for international arms shipments.
Given the status of Bush's son, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, as the Republican presidential front-runner, the elder Bush's connection to Pinochet's crimes also could become a source of political embarrassment in the 2000 election. It has never been clear precisely what Bush's CIA knew about the Letelier assassination and other acts of international terror sponsored by Chile's intelligence arm, DINA, during Bush's one year at the CIA's helm.
But the CIA clearly was in a position to know a great deal about those murders conducted under the wing of "Operation Condor," a joint assassination project sponsored by hard-line South American juntas in the mid-1970s. According to a 1975 U.S. Senate report, CIA officials established "liaison relations" with DINA and provided support "designed to assist them in controlling subversion."
Since Pinochet's arrest, some documents already have surfarced that give a taste of what the United States might know about his regime's atrocities. "Chilean Executions," a recently declassified top-secret report prepared for Kissinger in November 1973, summarized the bloody repression that followed the coup. It noted the summary execution of 320 people, the overall death toll of 1,500 killed, and the arrest of more than 13,500 suspected leftists. Though the death toll continued to climb in the following years, a just-released memorandum of a conversation between Kissinger and Pinochet, dated June 8, 1976, revealed that the U.S. secretary of state informed the general that the United States was "sympathetic with what you are trying to do here."
Still, the vast majority of U.S. intelligence and other relevant records remain secret, locked in the security vaults at the CIA, the State Department and the Pentagon. For years, those agencies have asserted that declassifying the records would "do grave harm" to U.S. national security interests.
Critics, however, counter that the risk to national security is minimal. They contend that the documents have been kept secret because they would reveal a shameful history of U.S. assistance to Pinochet in both overthrowing an elected government and maintaining power for nearly two decades through political repression. One former CIA official admitted that the Pinochet case could "open up a can of worms."
Besides the "Operation Condor" reports, the most important records sought by the Clinton-mandated declassification review are expected to include: a 14-page National Intelligence Estimate from June 1975, entitled "Prospects for Chile" and detailing the ongoing political repression; intelligence cables about the Letelier-Moffitt assassination; and a CIA assessment, dated eight days after the car-bombing, on "Chilean Attitudes Toward Dissident Opposition Groups," which contains CIA intelligence on the Pinochet regime's "activities against dissidents abroad."
Clinton's directive also gives the agencies a list of other specific human rights cases to address "in locating relevant documents." The list includes the case of Charles Horman and Frank Teruggi, two Americans detained and executed in the Santiago soccer stadium by Pinochet's armed forces following his 1973 coup. Their case was dramatized in the movie, "Missing," starring Jack Lemmon as Horman's father.
U.S. knowledge about attacks on prominent non-Americans is sought, too: the car-bomb death of Chilean Gen. Carlos Prats and his wife in Buenos Aires in September 1974 and the shooting of Christian Democratic leader Bernardo Leighton and his wife in Rome in September 1973. There is also a list of alleged perpetrators attached: Pinochet, former DINA chief Manuel Contreras Sepulveda, and former junta member Gustavo Leigh.
Justifying the declassification review, Clinton's directive stated that "release of such information could assist in encouraging a consensus within Chile on reinvigorating its truth and reconciliation process [and] address such questions as the fate of the disappeared. A declassification review also would respond to the expressed wishes of the families of American victims of human rights abuses."
Along with the "tasker," Clinton established an Interagency Working Group, chaired by the National Security Council, to "monitor progress toward these goals and to resolve any questions or problems of implementation."
Sam Buffone, the U.S. lawyer for the Letelier and Moffitt families, called the directive "a long overdue first step toward justice and truth for all of Pinochet's victims."
Peter Kornbluh, a contributing editor to iF Magazine, is director of the Chile Documentation Project at the National Security Archive.