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Chile Declassified | The Nation

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Chile Declassified

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Still Secrets of State

About the Author

Peter Kornbluh
Peter Kornbluh is a senior analyst at the National Security Archive in Washington, and co-author (with William M....

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Forty years after Pinochet's coup, a historic presidential campaign has revived debates about his dictatorship—and Washington's role in it.

The Condor documents raise more questions than they answer. If the US ambassador made a démarche to the Chilean regime on assassination plots before the Letelier-Moffitt murder, where is the memorandum of conversation recording that meeting? If the CIA station chief conferred with Contreras on Condor, is there documentation on what they discussed? Why weren't the intelligence reports that prompted the State Department to issue its alert on Condor declassified now?

These are among hundreds of documents that are conspicuously missing from the June 30 release. Key records on such important cases as the Letelier-Moffitt assassination and the execution of Charles Horman and Frank Teruggi (two US citizens arrested and killed following the coup), as well as CIA operational files on its "liaison relations" with DINA and internal policy memorandums about covert operations after the coup, continue to be withheld--leaving huge gaps in the documentation and the whiff of a historical cover-up.

In the Letelier-Moffitt case, all documents implicating Pinochet were located, reviewed and then deliberately pulled by the Justice Department. The CIA, for example, cited one report in the original list of documents to be included in the release: "Pinochet intercession w/Sup Crt to Prevent Extradition of officials re Letelier"--which presumably documents obstruction of US efforts to extradite Contreras--but noted "FBI Requests Withhold." In a June 28 letter to Michael Moffitt, the sole survivor of the bombing, Assistant Secretary of State Harold Koh explained that "a limited number of documents that are relevant to your wife's murder have been withheld...because their release would be detrimental to the ongoing investigation and criminal case in connection with the carbombing." The decision to withhold the documents provides the first substantive indication that the Justice Department is actively pursuing evidence that Pinochet was ultimately responsible for this heinous crime.

Other documents, however, remain secret without explanation. Among them are two possibly key cables--a State Department request to the CIA station in Santiago for information on contacts with the Chilean military in the days following the coup, and the CIA's response. These cables may hold the answer to why Horman and Teruggi were singled out and executed, the two men's families believe. Indeed, not a single document that illuminates the close operational relations between the CIA station and the Chilean regime and its intelligence apparatus was released. Nor were hundreds of internal memorandums from Langley headquarters that record policy decisions to assist the new regime covertly with equipment, training and logistics.

Future Declassification

US officials insist that many more documents will be released in the future and that the bureaucratic battles with the keepers of the secrets over the most sensitive documents will be fought before the final declassification. Documents covering US-Chile relations from 1968 to 1973--a period which includes massive US intervention against the presidency of Salvador Allende--are being reviewed for release in the fall. Thousands of other records from 1979 through the end of the dictatorship will be considered for declassification next year.

To its credit, the Clinton Administration has pushed and prodded the secrecy system into actually divulging some significant classified records. But whether that will lead to an honest and complete disclosure of the US role in Chile remains to be seen. The White House will have to overcome a recalcitrant CIA--the agency with the most to offer but also the most to hide--in order to truly shed light on this dark history.

Nevertheless, the Chile Declassification Project is a tacit admission that the United States can only rectify its shameful role in Chile's past by making the secret evidence available for use in the present. "In the minds of the world at large, we are closely associated with this junta, ergo with fascists and torturers," one State Department official noted in a July 1975 memo protesting Kissinger's pro-Pinochet policy. By declassifying the full record on Chile, the US government can show the world that it is finally, if belatedly, disassociating itself from Pinochet's crimes.

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