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May 30, 2011
9:00 am-10:30 am
Nerea A. Llamas, SALALM President 2010-2011, University of Michigan
Joseph Holub, SALALM Local Arrangements Co-chair, 2010-2011, University of Pennsylvania
David C. Murray, SALALM Local Arrangements Co-chair, 2010-2011, Temple University
H. Carton Rogers, Vice Provost and Director of Libraries, University of Pennsylvania
Ann Farnworth-Alvear, Director of the Latin American and Latino Studies Program, University of Pennsylvania
Jonathan LeBreton, Senior Associate University Librarian, Temple University Libraries
Peter Kornbluh, National Security Archive:
Forensic Archivists and Active Archives: Advancing the Cause of Human Rights in Latin America through Archival Investigation
Rapporteur: Gabriella Reznowski, Washington State University
Nerea Llamas opened the session by thanking the sponsors and welcoming special guests to SALALM LVI. Llamas introduced Peter Kornbluh, recognizing his contribution to the preservation of memory in its various forms. Works Kornbluh has authored include: The Cuban Missile Crisis, 1962, The Iran-Contra Scandal: the Declassified History, and The Pinochet File, among others.
Kornbluh began his presentation at the historic Warwick hotel by paying tribute to the Rittenhouse Square neighborhood, recalling his boyhood visits to his grandmother’s home on 21st and Walnut Street. He introduced the topic of “Human Rights and Archives,” explaining that every archive has the potential to become a “moving monument” to history. Kornbluh challenged us to take this a step further, to ensure that they are active monuments: “How do we actively and aggressively build and apply archives to rewrite and reshape the present and advance the concept of truth, justice and dignity that is at the heart of the human rights issues we care about?”
Kornbluh’s talk centered on the idea that we can all be “activist archivists,” ensuring that the documents we collect and preserve are used to advance the cause of human rights. This theme is central to the work at the National Security Archive (NSA), where they are committed to freedom of information and human rights issues. Sharing an acronym with the National Security Agency, Kornbluh jokingly explained, “We refer to ourselves as ‘The Archive’ rather than the NSA, which of course is a very secretive organization.” He acknowledged that because the ‘National Security Archive’ has a sinister ring to it, people sometimes confuse the NSA with a secretive, government agency. Kornbluh held up a t-shirt that read: “Documentos o Muerte!” (Documents or Death!). Kornbluh explained this was the assertive, almost revolutionary slogan of his organization.
Kornbluh explained that the NSA is the leading advocate for freedom of information and transparency laws, at home and abroad: “We have our church of the ‘right to know’ and we preach the gospel of the ‘right to know’ around the world.” Kornbluh stated that they take seriously those words that are so ironically and misleadingly engraved in the foyer of the Central Intelligence Agency: “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” He continued, saying: “Freedom, true democratic participation, and accountability are all predicated on access to information.” Quoting Justice Louis Brandeis, Kornbluh referred to the philosophy espoused by the NSA: “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”
Proceeding with his talk, Kornbluh presented a slide of a censored document related to Augusto Pinochet, stating: “This is what gets us going in the morning at the NSA: the censorship of history.” Much of the work of his organization is to uncover and pursue the text under the blacked-out part of such documents, as he asks: “Why do we have to have censorship like this?” Kornbluh further went on to describe the mission of the organization, as it works with key advocacy groups around the world to advance “freedom of information” laws. The NSA is responsible for establishing Sunshine Week in the U.S., also bringing the concept to other countries. His colleague, Kate Hill, was instrumental in drafting Mexico’s “freedom of information” laws, organizing the monitoring agencies that oversee them. Additionally, the NSA runs training programs on the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for the press, media programs, and reporters. The NSA is currently involved in providing training to the families of human rights victims in Chile, so that they may pursue documentation under the Chilean “freedom of information” laws.
Continuing, Kornbluh explained: “We’ve pushed and advocated for a special designation for the millions of pages of still secret U.S. documents that relate to human rights and oppression, a designation that would facilitate their expeditious declassification.” A slide showed the first pages of the November 23, 1997 proposal put forth by Congressman Tom Lantos, H.R. 26535: “The Human Rights Information Act” presented during the 1st session of the 100th congress. This act would expedite the release of all documents since 1944 that contain information about human rights violations. The CIA and FBI opposed the law, and it failed to pass. While other countries, such as Uruguay, Peru, and Guatemala adopt similar legislation, it is unfortunate that the U.S. is falling behind: “We work in a global arena now in archives, and other countries are adopting ‘freedom of information’ laws that have specific clauses for the expedited declassification of human rights documentation so that governments cannot hide these atrocities.”
Aside from advocating for the freedom of information around the world, the NSA is a repository for declassified documents. As Kornbluh explained, the organization has hundreds of boxes filled with papers, from which it publishes electronic briefing books, such as the forthcoming Fifty Years of Cuba Relations, also making its digital collections available through their website. The NSA has targeted documents related to Latin America, the history of nuclear war, terrorism, presidential decision making, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan. NSA staff have made over 40,000 FOIA requests generating the declassification of over 700,000 documents. The organization has also been instrumental in generating the declassification of documents and pushing for collections at presidential libraries to be opened to the public through Mandatory Declassification Review requests. Kornbluh explained that if the NSA drew only on U.S. archives, this would be “informational imperialism.” The organization therefore conducts research in other archives around the world, including Library and Archives Canada, the British National Archives, and the Brazilian National Archives, in addition to an increasing number of archives in Latin America, which have started to yield “impressive and vast numbers of docs on human rights.”
Kornbluh urged the propagation of “investigative librarians” in a field where we generally have a passive, “build it and they will come” orientation toward users: “It is in the building of these archival collections that we all bring the creativity and interests that we have to accumulate groups of unique records.” At the NSA, Kornbluh explained: “We proactively build our collections on Latin America and human rights with very specific usages in mind so, and very specific and clear strategies for the dissemination of the information, so it will have a maximum impact on the cause of human rights, through the media, into the hands of the courts and the families of victims that need them.” Kornbluh described his role as that of a “forensic historian,” the crime scene investigator of human rights atrocities in Latin America where the “autopsy” on human rights crimes is performed by “exhuming” the secret records of the vaults of the organizations like the FBI and CIA.
Another role Kornbluh highlighted is the targeting of key collections of documents related to human rights investigations in order to advance truth, justice, and dignity in Latin America. In order to accomplish this, Kornbluh advocates for the aggressive and special use of the FOIA through familiarity with the types of documents that each agency generates and the variety of reporting addressed by each department. The NSA is familiar with the operations of the State Department, the FBI attachés, the Defense Intelligence attachés, and the types of meetings and minutes that are generated by each group. Another method used to obtain documents is through “discretionary declassification,” pressing presidents and leaders to decree the declassification of relevant documents on key cases in order to advance the cause of human rights.
Kornbluh took the remainder of the time to illustrate some of the agency’s work.
1. Freedom of Information Act work
Much of the agency’s FOIA work is geared toward Truth Commissions related to Latin America. There have been a few cases where the NSA had foreknowledge of the establishment of a Truth Commission. For example, they have already started doing FOIA work in the U.S. related to an upcoming Brazil commission. Another example involves Peru, where the NSA had two years lead time to prepare 200 FOIA requests related to Alberto Fujimori.
Kornbluh showed a Defense Intelligence Agency document confirming that Fujimori gave the order to raid and execute prisoners at a Japanese residency where MRTA guerillas had taken hostages. Fujimori gave the order that no member of the hostage takers was to be taken alive, even if they were to surrender. The document confirms that two members did in fact surrender, were executed, and their bodies arranged in such a way as to appear that their deaths occurred during a “shoot out.” This document was instrumental in Fujimori’s trial, as it illustrates that he was capable of an explicit human rights violation. The NSA played a significant role in the Fujimori trial, giving the judges and prosecuting attorneys 21 documents that were used as evidence in Peru. Further to the Fujimori trial, Kornbluh showed the slide: “Counterterrorism plan: secret annex for extrajudicial assassination,” a document confirming that a secret, extracurricular, extrajudicial assassination program would be set up against those Fujimori considered to be terrorists.
Another FOIA example relates to the Defense Intelligence Agency “Biographic Data Reports” containing lists of where specific Guatemalan commanders were posted. The NSA also obtained “Order of Battle Documents” from which they were able to develop a database of major massacre locations and the corresponding commanding officers related to the atrocities. The database was used in helping the U.N. Truth Commission to establish connections between commanders and massacres. Kornbluh also presented a CIA Intelligence Report used by the U.N. Truth Commission showing that Rios Montt gave specific authorization for “carte-blanche” repression in the indigenous regions of Guatemala. Documents also illuminate the U.S. role in counter-terrorism campaigns, condoning operations that were tantamount to massacres, tortures, and bloodshed.
A slide showed a CIA diagram related to the 1954 coup operations against Arbenz, illustrating “The Conference Room Technique,” or “how to assassinate a room full of Arbenz officials in less than 20 seconds … and blame the communists.” This was found in the appendix to a manual on assassination which detailed every conceivable way to kill a person, including a section on blunt instruments. Kornbluh published the first four documents as “op-art” in the New York Times “op-ed” page, characterizing it as one of the most chilling documents he has ever read that was generated by tax-payer dollars. The declassification of these documents resulted in so much publicity that Clinton felt compelled to apologize for them when he was in Guatemala in 1998. Characterizing the incident, Kornbluh stated: “This is an issue of memory; this is an issue of accountability. Changing the framework of relations, addressing a horrid history, in the hopes of generating changes in the future.”
2. Emerging Latin American archives
Increasingly, in-house documents from Latin America are becoming instrumental to the work conducted by the NSA. Kornbluh showed a slide of a Chilean intelligence report from a DINA operative and bureau chief in Buenos Aires, Enrique Arancibia Clavel. Clavel operated under covert cover as a banker, but coordinated collaboration between the Argentinean Secret Police and the Chilean Secret Police. The document confirms that Clavel had been given a secret report by the Argentine Intelligence Batallion 601 confirming that between 1974 and 1976, 22,000 people died or disappeared due to Argentine military actions. This is still the only official acknowledgment from an internal Argentinean military source that confirms these deaths.
On some occasions, documents are given to NSA members by sources from inside Latin America. Kornbluh presented a slide of the Guatemalan “Death Squad Diary,” a leather-bound log book recording 8 months of efforts by the Guatemalan secret police during 1983. This was literally handed to Kate Doyle in Guatemala, as Kornbluh stated: “Even military sources sometimes have pains of conscience.” Kate Doyle published the article “Looking into the secret archives of Guatemala’s bureaucracy of murder” in Harper’s magazine and the log book became instrumental in prosecuting Guatemalan human rights cases.
Kornbluh cited the most important archival find in recent Latin American history to be the national police files in Guatemala. A photo showed a rat-infested abandoned armaments depot in the middle of Guatemala City, where some 50 million pages of documents were found in rotting bags. The materials were sifted through and are now being used as evidence in human rights trials. Related to this find, Kornbluh presented a slide that honors four police officers involved in the kidnapping and death of Edgar Fernando García, a student leader and trade union activist captured by Guatemalan security forces in 1984. As a result of this document, the officers were sent to trial, found guilty and sentenced to 40 years in prison. The documents illustrate that García’s capture was an organized political abduction orchestrated at the highest levels of the Guatemalan government. The documentary film Granito focuses on this incident, as a group of women, including colleague Kate Doyle, bring cases from Guatemala to the Spanish courts. In the film, Fernando Garcia’s daughter talks about the impact these documents have had on her, as she is able touch and feel them. She herself has become a human rights investigator, sifting through the documents in the archive. Kornbluh explained that the value of his work is driven home when the families of the victims come to the NSA to touch the photos of their loved ones, placing mementos in the archival case containing the documents: “The community has come to this activist archive.”
Another slide related to the “Archivo del Terror,” a major Latin American find in Paraguay. Upon finding this abandoned police station, a human chain was formed to transfer 700,000 documents to a car for transport to the Supreme Court building. Found among the documents was the original set of invitations that brought Paraguay into Operation Condor.
Kornbluh said: “We live in a global world, and one archive is not enough; we now look at many archives to build an investigative story.” To illustrate this, Kornbluh presented a slide with mug shots found by NSA colleague Carlos Osorio in the Mexican Police archives. The photos are of two Argentine secret police agents arrested in Mexico City in January of 1970. Osorio found corroborating documents in Paraguay, Argentina and the United States, to uncover “Operation Mexico,” an Argentine secret police rendition program to find and capture Monteneros living in Mexico City. Through the program, the agents captured “Tucho” Valenzuela, his wife, and two children, telling Valenzuela that he will identify other Monteneros, or risk losing his family. Valenzuela escaped from his captors and brought the story to the Mexican police who then found and arrested the Battalion 601 agents, taking the resulting mug shots. In the spirit of counter-terrorism, the Mexican police return Valenzuela to the two Battalion members and deport everyone back to Argentina. Since the operation had been blown, 14 people held at a detention center were executed to cover up the case, including Valenzuela’s wife. The children were adopted by military families, and finally reunited at the 2010 trial where the commanders were ultimately convicted.
3. Discretionary Declassification
Presenting a slide of the British warrant for Pinochet’s arrest in October of 1998, Kornbluh explained that documents are obtained by pushing presidents and leaders around the world to approve discretionary declassification. Kornbluh recalled the NSA’s ability to pressure the Clinton Administration on discretionary declassification of documents from Chile, resulting in the release of 24,000 items, including an internal diagram of the structure of the Chilean secret police. A slide entitled, “CIA Reports on Repression in Chile Ties Pinochet to Abuses,” shows that General Manuel Contreras took his orders from Augusto Pinochet, and Pinochet alone. Another slide shows Kissinger’s attitude toward Pinochet, when in a September 29, 1975 meeting with Admiral Caravajal, he complains: “I have read the briefing book my staff has prepared for me on this meeting, and it’s nothing but Human Rights.” Although Pinochet was never convicted, Kornbluh feels that these documents ensure that you still have a verdict of history.
Questions & Comments:
David Block (Cornell University) asked the only question: “In the context of your present work, what do you make of Wikileaks?”
Kornbluh replied that Wikileaks is essentially a techno-media organization that accepted almost 700,000 documents from U.S. Army soldier Bradley Manning and placed them on a network. What sets Wikileaks apart is the magnitude of the documents, and the use of technology to distribute them. The NSA has a different modus operandi than Wikileaks. For the most part, the NSA does not deal in leaked materials, but rather advocates for transparency with regards to government information. However, Kornbluh recommended that we compare Julian Assange’s reception to that of Bob Woodward: “Nobody is talking about prosecuting Bob Woodward, and nobody should be talking about prosecuting Assange either.”
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