Campaign for Declassification of

Documents on Human Rights Abuses in Latin America

The National Security Archive is leading a campaign to open secret U.S. files on human rights abuses in Latin America and the Caribbean to public scrutiny.

President Clinton has stated repeatedly that democracy, human rights and respect for the rule of law are central to United States policy in Latin America. The Archive believes the release of U.S. documents on human rights should be a fundamental part of that policy. Human rights information can no longer be shielded by the system of secrecy prevalent during the Cold War. As newly-democratic nations throughout Latin America confront their legacies of violence, the Clinton administration should strengthen its commitment to human rights in the region by declassifying all United States files on human rights abuses and releasing them to the public.

The Archive is joined in this effort by a wide range of public interest, human rights and religious organizations, including the Center for National Security Studies, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Latin America Working Group, the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, the Washington Office on Latin America, the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, United Church of Christ, and many more. Together, we ask that the President announce a new human rights initiative: In response to requests from appropriate bodies in Latin America and the Caribbean, the President should order release of information in United States government files concerning human rights abuses.

In support of our campaign, the New York Times ran an editorial in August which called on the Clinton administration to open U.S. human rights files to the public. On September 25, the Senate introduced a groundbreaking piece of legislation, entitled the Human Rights Information Act (S. 1220), requiring the President to provide declassified information on human rights in the event of an official request by a Latin American government or an appropriate international entity. The House followed suit on October 8 (H.R. 2635). And over three dozen organizations from around the country have signed a letter to Clinton urging him to open the files.

If you or your organization is interested in participating in the National Security Archive’s declassification campaign, please call Kate Doyle at 202 994-7035, or write to For additional information on the Human Rights Information Act, you can go to the Web site of the Latin American Working Group: and click on "Declassification Bills in Congress."


From The New York Times
Tuesday, August 5, 1997

History That Remains Hidden

Last week in Guatemala, a truth commission began sifting through the rubble of that country's 36-year civil war. Commissions to Investigate the human rights abuses of the past have become a standard part of the healing process in Latin America as guerrilla wars and military dictatorships recede into history. Like the other commissions, Guatemala's will be constrained by penury and political realities. Cooperation from the military will be scant. The United States, which backed that military for long periods, is giving $1 million for Guatemala's commission. But Washington has declined to provide something more important, its own files on Guatemala's crimes.

The Central Intelligence Agency recently released a small batch of records on the 1954 military coup It organized in Guatemala, and promises more coup records in the months ahead. But it has declassified practically nothing on the security forces that have killed more than 110,000 Guatemalans since the coup. Washington trained and supported some of these forces. It also backed abusive internal security organizations in Nicaragua, Haiti, Honduras and El Salvador. It owes the victims of these groups whatever information It has.

The National Security Archive, a nongovernmental repository of formerly classified material, is leading a worthy effort to have President Clinton order the release of information concerning human rights abuses in Latin America and the Caribbean. The C.I.A. is right to protect the names of its sources and its sensitive methods. But its cold-war enemies are now vanquished, its old methods supposedly abandoned and the international landscape redrawn. The agency's continued secrecy serves to protect it from embarrassment.

Except for material concerning the Guatemala coup and about 1,000 pages the C.I.A. released in 1993 on El Salvador, virtually everything the C.l.A. has turned over concerns cases where the victims or their survivors were American citizens. The need for truth, however, does not stop at the border.

One case where the C.l.A.'s Information is especially crucial Is Honduras. Government officials there are risking their lives to prosecute some two dozen military men involved in a death squad that killed or "disappeared" at least 184 people in the early 1980's. The trial would be a major victory for democracy in Honduras. The death squad grew out of a collaboration between the C.I.A. and the Honduran military, and it is reasonable to think that C.l.A. Information could help in the prosecution.

The Honduran Government has been asking for relevant American documents since 1993. The State Department has complied, but the most important material must come from the Pentagon and the C.l.A. The Pentagon has turned over a small fraction of its documents, some almost completely censored. The C.I.A. has provided only material on the death of an American-born priest. In June, President Clinton set target dates for document releases from the Pentagon and C.l.A. Although some have now passed, no files have appeared.

Full disclosure from the C.I.A. matters to the United States as well as to Latin America. Washington has done much lately to become a good neighbor. To consolidate that change, it now needs to open the archives on a painful era.

Letter to President Clinton

October 8, 1997

President Bill Clinton
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, D.C. 20500

Dear Mr. President,

You have stated many times that democracy, human rights and respect for the rule of law are central to United States policy in Latin America. We are encouraged by one critical aspect of that policy: your commitment to open secret files on human rights abuses in Latin America for public scrutiny. Your administration has done more than any other to help clarify the past by declassifying critical U.S. records on human rights in countries such as El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

Mr. President, we urge you to broaden this important effort. Human rights information should not be shielded by the system of secrecy inherited from the cold war. Such information is often a critical component to a country's struggle to promote the rule of law, end impunity and bolster reconciliation in formerly conflicted societies. As newly-democratic nations in Latin America confront their legacies of violence, your administration can strengthen its commitment to human rights by declassifying United States files on human rights abuses in the region and releasing them to the public.

To that end, many of us wrote you in April of this year urging you to announce a new human rights initiative in connection with your trip to Latin America. Since then, two requests have become even more demanding of your immediate attention:

First, the United Nations Clarification Commission in Guatemala, which began work on July 31, 1997, has requested information and documentation from the United States. The Clarification Commission is a product of the peace agreement which ended more than three decades of armed conflict in Guatemala and is charged with establishing a historical record of the massive human rights violations that characterized the period. While U.S. agencies have declassified some records on Guatemala in connection with the Intelligence Oversight Board investigation that you ordered, those records focused mainly on human rights violations against U. S. citizens. The Clarification Commission is now seeking additional information from the United States, which is essential for its work.

Second, a top priority review should be ordered, and completed, in response to the request already received from the Human Rights Commissioner of Honduras. You have made an important commitment to respond to the commissioner's petition--first submitted in 1993--in support of his human rights investigations into the Honduran army's role in the disappearances of the early 1980s. You most recently reiterated this commitment in a June 13 letter to members of Congress.

Although the State Department has completed its release of documents in response to the Honduran request, neither the CIA nor the Defense Department has honored the commitments that you made. When those agencies have released documents, they have not adequately responded to the request made by the commissioner. The CIA Inspector General has completed a classified report drawing on extensive internal documentation of human rights abuses in Honduras-material absolutely critical to the commissioner's work. But neither the report nor the documents it is based on have been reviewed for declassification and released.

In conducting the declassification review of the requested information, the standards used should be more forthcoming than are presently available under the Freedom of Information Act. Specifically, agencies should review such documents for declassification on an expedited schedule, to be completed in the next few months so that they will be available in time to be useful to the Guatemalan Clarification Commission and the Honduran Human Rights Commissioner. In addition, such review should apply declassification standards which recognize both the foreign policy and the public interests in disclosing the information. Your administration properly recognized such interests in the earlier declassification of documents on human rights abuses in El Salvador as well as the IOB report on Guatemala. Finally, an independent review process should be established to ensure that agencies follow your directive.

Mr. President, your administration has already taken unprecedented actions to guarantee public access to information on human rights in the hemisphere. We greatly appreciate those steps. We urge you now to continue your commitment to human rights by moving to open U.S. human rights records on Latin America.


*James Matlack
Director, Washington Office American Friends Service Committee

William F. Schulz
Executive Director
Amnesty International USA

John Ruthrauff
Executive Director
Center for Democratic Education

Ambassador Robert White
Center for International Policy

Ariel Dulitzky
Center for Justice and International Law

Morton Halperin
Chair, Advisory Board
Center for National Security Studies

Michael Prokosch
Program Director
Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES)

Barbara Gerlach
Colombia Human Rights Committee, Washington, D.C.

Irving Lerch and Mary Gray
The Committee on Scientific Freedom and Responsibility of the American Association for the Advancement of Science

Joe and Eileen Connolly
Communication Center #1

Trina Paulus
Cornucopia Network of New Jersey

*Larry Birns
Director Council on Hemispheric Affairs

Phil Thomforde
Cumberland Countians for Peace & Justice

Kathy Ogle
Program Director
Ecumenical Program in Central America and the Caribbean (EPICA)

Steven Aftergood
Senior Research Analyst
Federation of American Scientists

*John Lindsay-Poland
Fellowship of Reconciliation Task Force on Latin America and the Caribbean

Russell Hemenway
Fund for Constitutional Government

Thomas DeVine
Legal Director
Government Accountability Project

Alice Zachmann
Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA

Marilyn M. Moors
National Coordinator
Guatemala Scholars Network

Felix Aguilar
Honduras Popular Support Group

José Miguel Vivanco
Executive Director
Human Rights Watch/Americas

Mary Peter Bruce, S.L.
Staff Liaison
Loretto Community Latin America / Caribbean

Marie Dennis
Associate for Latin America
Justice and Peace Office, Maryknoll Society

J. Daryl Byler
Mennonite Central Committee - U.S.
Washington Office

Thomas S. Blanton
Executive Director
National Security Archive

Tim Riane
State Coordinator
Nebraskans for Peace

*Shelley Moskowitz
Legal Director
Neighbor to Neighbor

Kathy Thornton, R.S.M.
National Coordinator
NETWORK: A National Catholic Social Justice

Lael Parish
Executive Director
Network in Solidarity with the People of

Katherine Hoyt
National Co-Coordinator
Nicaragua Network

Rita Clark
Nicaragua - U.S. Friendship Office

Alice Wolters and Mark
National Coordinators
Peru Peace Network

Elenora Guildings Ivory
Director, Washington Office
Presbyterian Church (USA)

Danielle Brian
Executive Director
Project on Government Oversight

Ellen D. Lynch, CSC
Quixote Center/Quest for Peace

Margaret Swedish
Religious Task Force on Central America
& Mexico

James J. Silk
Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for
Human Rights

Carol Richardson
Director, Washington Office
School of the Americas Watch

*Dr. Audrey R Chapman
*Stephen A. Hansen
*Elisa Munoz
*Patrick Ball
Science and Human Rights Program of the
American Association for the Advancement
of Science

Rabbi David Saperstein
Religious Action Center
Union of American Hebrew Congregations

Dr. Richard S. Scobie
Executive Director
Unitarian Universalist Service Committee

Rev. David Vargas
Executive Secretary Latin America & the
Caribbean Office
United Church of Christ / Christian Church
(Disciples of Christ)

Donald B. Clark
United Church of Christ, Network for
Environmental and Economic Responsibilty

Rev. Charles McCollough
Staff Associate
United Church of Christ / Office for Church in

*Joseph N. Peacock
Clergy United Methodist Church

Peggy Hutchison
Assistant General Secretary
United Methodist Church, General Board of
Global Ministries
Global Networks and Ecumenical Relations

George R. Vickers
Executive Director
Washington Office on Latin America

Steven Bennett
Executive Director
Witness for Peace

* Organization affiliation listed for purposes of identification only.


The Honorable Samuel R. Berger
Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs
The White House

Thomas McLarty III
Counselor to the President and Special Envoy for the Americas
The White House

John Podesta
Deputy Chief of Staff
The White House

George Tenet
Central Intelligence Agency

Franklin D. Kramer
Assistant Secretary for International Security Affairs
Department of Defense

Maria Fernandez-Greczmiel
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Inter-American Affairs
Department of Defense

Ambassador Jeffrey Davidow
Assistant Secretary for Inter-American Affairs
Department of State

James P. Rubin
Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs
Department of State

John Shattuck
Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
Department of State

John R. Hamilton
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Inter-American Affairs
Department of State

James F. Dobbins
Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Inter-American Affairs
National Security Council

Eric P. Schwartz

Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs National Security Council

The National Security Archive,
The Gelman Library, George Washington University
2130 H Street, NW, Suite 701, Washington, DC 20037
Phone: 202-994-7000 / Fax: 202-994-7005