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Argentina dictator { August 21 2002 }

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Argentine Ex-Leader Tied to Death Squad
U.S. Records Cite Role in 1976-83 Killings

By Dana Priest
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 21, 2002; Page A14

One of the leaders of the military dictatorship that ruled Argentina between 1976 and 1983 was at the top of the chain of command, directing a notorious death squad thought to be responsible for the killing and disappearance of thousands of Argentines during that period, according to declassified State Department documents released yesterday.

Gen. Leopoldo Galtieri, who served as president of Argentina from December 1981 to June 1982 and faces criminal charges in the disappearance of 18 people, is listed at the top of an organizational diagram drawn by officials at the U.S. Embassy in Buenos Aires. The chart, once stamped secret, shows the chain of command for the secretive unit, known as Battalion 601, moving from task forces, through positions in its headquarters, to the Army's chief intelligence officers and then to Galtieri.

The chart, drawn by James J. Blystone, the Regional Security Officer at the embassy, is one of 4,677 pages released yesterday after years of requests by U.S. groups and the relatives of Argentine victims of the military government's war against its own people. Then-Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright, during a visit to Buenos Aires in 2000, met with the grandmothers of some people who had disappeared, and Albright promised to push for the documents' release.

More than 9,000 Argentines, including political and labor leaders, clergymen, human rights activists, physicians and students, were killed or "disappeared" during the military junta.

The United States, which tacitly encouraged the campaign against anti-government activists in its early years, later tried to pressure the government to stop the disappearances. The released documents include memos outlining an intense policy dispute within the U.S. government over what its position on the ruling junta should be, according to Thomas S. Blanton, executive director of the National Security Archive, a nongovernmental research institute that pushed for the release of the documents.

Blanton, often a critic of the U.S. government because of its secrecy, praised the State Department yesterday. "For Argentina, this information is essential for coming to terms with their very bloody past, and that's hugely significant." But, he added, the documents also show "a remarkable level of knowledge by the U.S. government" about daily human rights abuses.

At the time, some U.S. government officials said the abuse was being committed by renegade military and security force elements, and was not Argentina's government policy. But one of many examples describing the U.S. government's knowledge about the government's unorthodox tactics is laid out in a cable from the embassy to the State Department in May 1980:

A reliable source described for embassy officials the "very hard orders that went out late last year for security procedures" concerning the Montoneros, a domestic terrorist group. "Torture and summary executions will be their lot," the cable quotes the source as saying.

Asked by U.S. officials "why the military did not feel it possible to bring these people before formal courts, even military courts, our informant gave two reasons," the cable says. "First, 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."

The cable concludes by saying: "Under present rules, 'nobody' is responsible on the record for the executions."

2002 The Washington Post Company

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