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Part II - Argentine Military Believed U.S. Gave Go-ahead for Dirty War

New State Department documents show conflict between Washington and US Embassy in Buenos Aires over signals to the military dictatorship at height of repression in 1976

More Declassified Documents on Argentina: 
Joint CELS-Archive selection of previously declassified  documents (site in Spanish)



Esta hoja en Español
For more information contact:
National Security Archive
Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS)

Carlos Osorio 202/994-7000
Thomas Blanton 202/994-7000

Victor Abramovich   011 5411 4334 4200
Maria Jose Guembe 011 5411 4334 4200
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New Documents Describe Key Death Squad Under Former Army Chief Galtieri

First Bush Administration Declassification Praised by Human Rights Monitors

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 73 - Part I
Edited by Carlos Osorio

Assisted by

Kathleen Costar, research and editorial assistance
Florence Segura, research assistance
of the National Security Archive

Natalia Federman, research assistance and Spanish translation

Washington D.C. : The National Security Archive and its partner NGO, the Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS), today praised the State Department's declassification of more than 4,600 previously secret U.S. documents on human rights violations under the 1976-83 military dictatorship in Argentina.

"The documents provide clues to the fate of 'disappeared' citizens in Argentina by an unchecked security apparatus, and tell the story of a massive and indiscriminate counterinsurgency campaign carried out by the military dictatorship targeting real or imagined subversives including thousands of labor leaders, workers, clergymen, human rights advocates, scientists, doctors, and political party leaders" said Carlos Osorio, director of the National Security Archive's Argentina Documentation Project.

The special declassification, initiated by the Clinton Administration and completed by the Bush administration, has yielded hundreds of cables, memoranda of conversations, reports and notes between the State Department and the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires, that help clarify a handful of cases of disappearances. "They are a clear contribution to families seeking information about their missing relatives and to Judges seeking to make the military accountable for past abuses," Osorio added.

On July 10, 2002, Argentine Judge Claudio Bonadio charged former President Galtieri along with 30 other military officers for the disappearance of a dozen Montonero subversives in 1980, among them Horacio Campiglia and Susana Binstock. The documents provide new information on several issues:

  • The abduction of Horacio Campiglia and Susana Binstock by Argentine intelligence with Brazilian collaboration in Brazil, their detention and disappearance from the Campo de Mayo detention center, as well as hints on the fate of dozens of other disappeared people captured by the military in 1979 and 1980;
  • Clarification of a handful of cases of disappeared people and useful information on others;
  • Structure and modus operandi of the security and intelligence apparatus involved in the disappearances in 1979 and 1980 - chain of command of military intelligence Battalion 601 and the joint operations center known as Reunion Central leading up to the then Army commander in chief Leopoldo Galtieri;
  • Torture in detention centers and assassinations and disappearances as a counterinsurgency policy of government forces;
  • The cooperation between intelligence and security forces of Argentina and Brazil in illegal cross border detentions as well as with other Southern Cone intelligence services, mainly Uruguay and Chile, under Operation Condor in the mid 1970's;
  • The spill over of counterinsurgency operations of Argentina's intelligence and security units into neighboring Bolivia, Peru and Brazil, as well as Spain in the early 1980's;
  • The meticulous documentation by the U.S. Embassy's human rights team of nearly 10,000 human rights violations - most of them disappeared.

"The State Department under Secretary Powell - and previously under Secretary Albright - deserves real credit for this historic human rights declassification," remarked Thomas S. Blanton, director of the National Security Archive. "The foreign service officers who documented human rights abuses at the time, often to the discomfort of their bosses, and the retirees and staff who did the work to make these documents public, all deserve our thanks." Victor Abramovich, director of CELS, said that the recent human rights charges from the "dirty war" period against Galtieri made the State Department declassification even more urgent: "The documents will help clarify this case of great public importance, as well as the whole period of military rule."

"This release proves once again that long secret U.S. documents constitute a powerful historical and judicial tool to redress the atrocities of the past in Latin America," said Archive senior analyst Peter Kornbluh. He and Osorio called on the Central Intelligence Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency and other national security agencies to follow the State Department lead on declassifying their records relating to human rights abuses.

Since 1999, dozens of victims and relatives, human rights organizations, judges and US congress people have asked the U.S. for documents on violations in the Southern Cone during the decade from 1975-85. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright ordered the collection, review and declassification of U.S. records on Argentina following an August 16, 2000 meeting in Buenos Aires with leaders of the Grandmothers and Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, and with the Argentine human rights organization, the Centro de Estudios Sociales y Legales (CELS).

In November 2000, the Department of State announced the declassification effort on documents pertaining to "Operation Condor; disappearances and child kidnapping in Argentina from 1976-83." State Department officials asked the CIA and Pentagon to participate by releasing documents from their agency archives, but they declined to do so. The review process was largely completed and 35 volumes of 500 pages each were ready to be published by September 2001. The September 11th tragedy and the fiscal and political crisis in December in Argentina held up the release of the documents until now.

The National Security Archive worked with CELS to provide the State Department with a detailed chronology of key human rights cases from the "dirty war" period for State's use in its search and review process. In the coming months, the National Security Archive will work with the Centro de Estudios Sociales y Legales in Argentina to produce selections and analysis for human rights groups, lawyers and judges engaged in judicial proceedings and in the search for truth.

Note: The following documents are in PDF format.
You will need to download and install the free Adobe Acrobat Reader to view.
Document 1: Subject: [Statement by anonymous U.S. citizen on being subjected to atrocious torture], October 4, 1976
Full Document (PDF)

In 1976, the Argentine military launched a major counterinsurgency campaign. By the end of the year, thousands would be illegally detained, tortured, assassinated or disappeared. Among the victims that year, there were half a dozen American citizens. In this shocking and detailed statement given by one of those victims to the State Department in Washington, she reports that her captors "…started using the picana (an electric prod). Then they tied me down and threw water on me… They questioned me but it was more just give it to her. There. There. There. In genital area… They said they'd fix me so I couldn't have children." The document also points to the possible involvement of the Argentine presidential intelligence service (Servicio de Informaciones del Estado (SIDE)).

Document 2: Subject: GOA Silent on Uruguay Revelation of Terrorist Plot, November 2, 1976
Full Document (PDF)
In July and September 1976, more than 50 Uruguayans disappeared in Buenos Aires. On October 28, the Uruguayan security forces announced that the so-called disappearances were actually a plot by subversives to infiltrate Uruguay and carry out a series of assassinations. This cable from Ambassador Robert Hill in Argentina reveals that the plot was actually carried out by the Uruguayan security forces, who captured refugees in cooperation with Argentine security forces and forced them to stage a mock attack on Uruguay.
Document 3: Subject: Report on the Subversive Situation, June 3, 1977
Full Document (PDF)
In this translation of a document obtained by the U.S. Embassy, an unknown Argentine military unit makes an assessment of the subversive situation and lists the chronological killing of nearly 100 people in clashes with insurgents. A section of the report reads:

"5/28 Haedo (Prov. of Buenos Aires) Twelve killed. Coordinating meeting

5/29 La Plata (Prov. of Buenos Aires) One killed

6/1 Temperley (Prov of Buenos Aires) Five killed

6/3 Monte Grande (Prov. of Buenos Aires) Five killed…"

In other documents, Embassy officials remark how they at times were able to match statistics on disappearances with the operations of Argentine security units. "This kind of document as well as lists of detained by Argentine military units should be declassified by the Argentine military", says Victor Abramovich, Director of CELS in Buenos Aires.
Document 4: Subject: Memorandum on Torture and Disappearance in Argentina, May 31, 1978
Full Document (PDF)

In the 1970's thousands of political opponents -- real or suspected subversives -- were seen being captured by unknown men or security forces or simply walking away from home or work and nobody heard of them again -- the disappeared. Most of the disappearances and torture cases occurred in 1976 and 1977.

This 1978 memorandum asserts that "...if there has been a net reduction in reports of torture, this is not because torture has been forsworn but 'derives from fewer operations' because the number of terrorists and subversives has diminished," and that disappearances "include not only suspected terrorists but also encompass a broader range of people -- for example, labor leaders, workers, clergymen, human rights advocates, scientists, doctors, and political party leaders. A recent dramatic occurrence was the abduction in December of five 'mothers of the disappeared' and two French nuns, whose bodies were reportedly discovered washed ashore." 

Document 5: Subject: Disappearance of Ceramics Workers in 1977, June 14, 1978
Full Document (PDF)
Starting in 1977, the U.S. Embassy established a team to monitor human rights in Argentina. Quickly, the Embassy became a focal point for families and relatives of victims of the dirty war presenting denunciations and requesting the Embassy's assistance. Prompted by one of these denunciations, this cable reports that Embassy sources indicate that the disappearance of workers of LOZADUR factory "are the result of a security operations in the area, presumably by intelligence elements operating out of the Army Communications School in nearby Campo de Mayo... (Another source who consorts with Army intelligence agents has alleged to us that 19 ceramics workers were executed in Campo de Mmayo in November 1977.)." The Embassy believes, "there is a great deal of cooperation generally between management representatives and the security agencies aimed at eliminating terrorist infiltrators from the industrial work places and at minimizing the risk of industrial strife."
Document 6: Subject: U.S. Interested Human Rights Cases, June 29, 1978
Full Document (PDF)

Dozens of lists compiled by the U.S. Embassy from hundreds of requests by relatives, human rights groups in Argentina and the U.S., and Congressional offices were regularly presented by the Embassy to the Argentine government in an effort to locate the disappeared and help guarantee their safety. This cable from the Embassy contains the names in 103 cases of disappeared reported in June 1978. Among the names is a relative of American citizen Nelida Azucena Sosa de Forti. The following are some extracts:

Case No Name US Interest Status...
364-78-5 Corte, Arturo Amnesty Intl Detained...
365-78-5 Patrignani, Carlos New Jersey Bar As. Detained…
372-78-5 Goldberg, Marta Dept. of State Disappeared…
456-78-6 Villani, Mario WOLA Disappeared…
7-76-11 Misetich, Antonio AAAS, NAS Disappeared…
71-77-5 Sos[a] de Forti, Nelida Azucena   Disappeared…

Document 7: Subject: Efforts to Account for the Disappeared, May 10, 1979
Full Document (PDF)

This remarkable document quotes General Saurez Mason - one of the senior military officers arrested on July 10 by Judge Bonadio - as having told a foreign ambassador in 1979 "that he had signed 'fifty to a hundred death warrants per day' over a long period" during the height of the repression. In addition to giving a chilling sense of the magnitude of the slaughter, Saurez Mason's quote suggests to the Embassy that "extensive records exist (or have existed) accounting for perhaps several thousand deaths."

Document 8: Subject: Human Rights Case Reports [Airgram 46 and Attachment One], June 19, 1979
Part one of attachment to Airgram-46 (PDF) (480 pp. - 8.8 MB)
Part five of attachment to Airgram-46 (PDF) (495 pp. - 8.4 MB)
One of the most impressive documents in the collection is the seven-part Airgram-46 of June 19, 1979, whereby the U.S. Embassy in Argentina sends "for the Department's permanent records and use" a copy of the cards on nearly 10,000 cases of human rights violations in Argentina (most of them disappearances) compiled by the team led by Allen F. (Tex) Harris. Each part contains about 400 pages, three cards per page. On the first pages of parts one and five are the names of Dominga and Felicidad Abadia Crespo, workers of the LOZADUR ceramics factory disappeared in 1977, and of Uruguayan citizen Sara Mendez and her disappeared son, both captured in 1976.
The following are some extracts:
From part one attachment to Airgram-46
ABAD, Ana Catalina
LN: 10.048.122
Disappeared b-15-76 Cordoba
ABAD, Roberto Rodolfo Tomas
CI 6.583.034
Florida F.C.N.G.B.M.
Arrested on 8-9-76 by 3 armed men. Since then disappeared.
772/79/1 D
ABADE, Carlos
Detained since 10-27-77
ABADI, Carlos Alberto
CI: 6.667.186
DU: 10201.943
Student Psychology University-Filosofia y Letras
GOA reply: 2-14-79 [unintelligible]
Arrested on 5-6-77 near University.
LC 7.046.818
Disappeared. Lozadur. [unintelligible]



LC 10-443.072
Disappeared. Lozadur. [unintelligible]
412/78/6 D
From part 5 of Airgram-46
DIS 7-13-76
(Uruguayan) D
Age 33
Disappeared in Buenos Aires 7-13-76. At present in Punte Rieles Prison in Uruguay, accused of subversive association."
(Uruguayan) P
Document 9: Subject: Nuts and Bolts of the Government's Repression of Terrorism-Subversion, August 7, 1979
Full Document (PDF)
A source using the alias "Jorge Contreras" updates Embassy officials on secret detention centers, the fate of the disappeared, and the organization and structure of the security and intelligence apparatus. The source explains the coordination of clandestine operations between the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Federal Police through task forces in the "Reunion Central" located at Intelligence Battalion 601 headquarters. According to the source, this counterinsurgency set up permitted indiscriminate operations that, "If the operation netted a terrorist or subversive group member it would be publicized. If it brought in a house wife or 'someone's aunt' or an embarrassment it could be denied by everyone." The case of "Jorge Sznaider and five other young people on May 12" is cited as an example.
Document 10: Subject: Organizational Chart of 601, February 6, 1980
This Memo by James J. Blystone, Regional Security Officer (RSO) at the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires, notes two recent changes within what it calls Intelligence Battalion 601: 1) the Intelligence Analysis Division, which had studied the PCR/PST/PO, had been split into two new divisions; and 2) two new divisions, one to study political parties and one to study exterior activities, had been created. This is actually the chart of the unit "Reunion Central" within Intelligence Battalion 601. According to Argentine sources, the unit was responsible for scores of disappearances. The chart shows how the chain of command leads directly up to the Army Head General Leopoldo F. Galtieri. On July 10, 2002, Argentine Judge Claudio Bonadio issued warrants for the arrests of Galtieri and more than 30 other military officers in the disappearance of Horacio Campiglia and Susan Pinus de Binstock (see next document).
Document 11: Subject: Conversation with Argentine Intelligence Source, April 7, 1980
Full Document (PDF)

This is one of the rare documents that help elucidate the fate of a disappeared person. In this memorandum to Ambassador Castro, James J. Blystone, RSO at the US Embassy in Buenos Aires, details his April 2 meeting with an Argentine intelligence source. The anonymous Argentine source describes to the Embassy's Regional Security Officer how Horacio Campiglia and Susana Binstock, who were part of a special Montonero unit called the TEI (Special Infantry Troops) embarked on an offensive at the time, were captured by Argentine officers of Battalion 601 (in coordination with Brazilian intelligence), taken to Argentina and held at the Campo de Mayo Army base. Campiglia and Binstock were never seen again. The source also talks about another 12 Montoneros recently captured and taken to Campo de Mayo. Another disappeared, Jara de Cabezas, is being held by the Navy.

Document 12: Subject [excised] more on PST disappearances, May 14, 1980
Full Document (PDF)

In this telegram from the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires to the State Department, the Embassy details information received from a source when discussing the recent disappearance of several PST members in Rosario. The source also explained orders that had gone out late the previous year regarding security procedures. Active Montoneros, including members of the TEI and TEA forces, were to be dealt with in the same way as before, which is described as "torture and summary execution." Operations against other groups were to be conducted "openly and within the Argentine legal system." The source states that these other groups would include those who sympathize with the Montoneros or who had cooperated with them at a low level in the past. When asked why the security forces do not at least bring captured TEI and TEA members in front of military courts, the source gives two explanations: "First, the security forces neither trust nor know how to use legal solutions. The present methods are easier and more familiar. Second, there is no responsible military man who 'has the courage' to take formal responsibility for the conviction and execution of a Montonero. Under present rules 'nobody' is responsible on the record for the executions."
Document 13: Subject: Hypothesis -- The GOA as Prisoner of Army Intelligence, August 18, 1980
Full Document (PDF)
The document states that the clear involvement of Intelligence Battalion 601 in the kidnapping of Argentines in Peru, the death of one of them in Madrid, and the recent coup in Bolivia are an embarrassment that the Argentine government does not seem capable of stopping. The document states that "the continued tactic of murdering Montoneros without due process is no longer necessary from a security point of view and extremely costly in terms of Argentina's international relations. (There is a countervailing theory that these tactics were the product of a written doctrine elaborated soon after the military took over. General Rivera's comments earlier this year suggest to some that this is so.)"
Document 14: Subject: A source in Argentine intelligence services reviewed the following subjects with me, August 21, 1980
Full Document (PDF)
“601 Command: Col. Mucio presides over but does not rule at the 601… his sub-ordinates operate pretty much as they wish presenting Mucio with faits accomplis. Mucio's immediate subordinate is Col. Bellini, a hardline political troglodyte. Under Bellini is Col. Roldon and below him is Col. Arias Duval… An operation like Bolivia would have involved Army G-2 and not the 601. The Montoneros: my source said the Montoneros have no more than 20 activists and 20 sympathizers within Argentina. Last month security services rolled up 12 Montoneros who tried to infiltrate the country.”
Document 15: Subject: Relations Between the Alfonsin Government and the Armed Forces, March 21, 1984
Full Document (PDF)
"Summary: Relations between the Alfonsin government and the Armed Forces appear to be better than the pre-inauguration doomsayers predicted, but they are far from trouble-free. The Armed Forces appear to accept the principle of presidential leadership and Alfonsin recognizes the need for caution in interfering in military affairs if he is to void eroding that acceptance. The officer corps seems willing to face limited budget cuts, some reorganization, and the punishment of the most corrupt and egregious violators of human rights during the last regime."

"Unease About Human Rights Investigations
Most military officers were involved to some degree in the struggle to put down subversion including its violent aspects. The deliberate policy of the Armed Forces during the peak period of the struggle, 1975-1978, was to ensure that the bulk of the officer corps, and noncoms [non commissioned officers] as well, participated in anti-subversive operations. According to a source who was very close to the decission-makers at the time, the objective was two-fold: to prevent the emergence of an elite body of soldiers with combat experience and to compromise the entire institution in what the leadership recognized were methods that subsequently might be questioned."


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