National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 15

Internal Military Log Reveals Fate of 183 "Disappeared"


Thursday, May 20, 1999
Contact Persons:
Kate Doyle, National Security Archive (202) 994-7035
Patrick Ball, American Association for the Advancement of Science (202) 326-6799
Hugh Byrne, Washington Office on Latin America (202) 797-2171
Anne Manuel, Human Rights Watch (202) 612-4321

Internal Military Log Reveals Fate of 183 "Disappeared"

Washington, May 20, 1999-- The Guatemalan military kept detailed records of its death squad operations, according to a document released by four human rights and public interest groups today. The army log reveals the fate of scores of Guatemalan citizens who were "disappeared" by security forces during the mid-1980s. Replete with photos of 183 victims and coded references to their executions, the 54-page document was smuggled out of the Guatemalan army’s intelligence files and provided to human rights advocates in February, just two days before a UN-sponsored truth commission released its report on the country’s bloody 35-year civil war.

Representatives of the National Security Archive, the Washington Office on Latin America, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and Human Rights Watch disclosed the document at a noon-time press conference on Thursday, May 20, at the National Press Club, calling it "the only known record of its kind." The logbook covers death squad activity by Guatemalan intelligence units during an 18-month period between August 1983 and March 1985. A two-page excerpt appears in the June 1999 issue of Harper's Magazine.

"This chilling document is the death squad equivalent of an annual productivity report, an account from inside the secret files of Guatemala’s killing machine," said Kate Doyle, an analyst of U.S. policy in Latin America and director of The Guatemala Project at the National Security Archive, located at George Washington University. "It is absolutely unique -- a rare glimpse of organized political murder from the perspective of the perpetrators who committed it."

Throughout the war, the Guatemalan military used abduction, torture and assassination in their counterinsurgency campaign against the Guatemalan left. By the time the government and the guerrillas signed the peace accord in 1996, some 160,000 people had been killed and 40,000 "disappeared" -- 93 percent at the hands of the Guatemalan security forces, according to "Guatemala: Memory of Silence," the report of the Historical Clarification Commission.

The four groups called upon the Guatemalan government to investigate the crimes detailed in the document, and identify and prosecute those responsible. They also called on President Alvaro Arzú to take immediate steps to secure the archives of the military and intelligence services to protect against the destruction of other critical evidence that may exist on human rights crimes.

Click here to view the "Death Squad Dossier" (Color, PDF, 10 MB)

Click here to view the "Death Squad Dossier" (B/W, PDF, 4.2 MB)

Click here to view a one-page exceprt of the "Death Squad Dossier" (Color, PDF, 156 KB)

Click here to view the excerpt from Harper's Magazine (Color, PDF, 3.2 MB)

Click here to view related declassified U.S. documents