A U.S. congressman who played a key role in declassifying secret U.S. files on the Chilean dictatorship is urging President Barack Obama to make a similar commitment to Argentine President Cristina Fernandez when they meet in France on Friday.
"You now have the opportunity to prove our dedication to human rights and build upon your transparency efforts while strengthening the diplomatic relationship with the government of Argentina," U.S. Rep. Maurice Hinchey wrote in a letter to Obama, which he shared with The Associated Press on Thursday.
Argentina's 1976-1983 dictatorship destroyed evidence of its human rights violations as democracy returned, but hundreds of former military and police officials are now being tried nevertheless, a quarter-century later, based largely on survivors' recollections. The junta's "dirty war" against leftist revolutionaries officially claimed 13,000 lives, although advocates say the real toll was closer to 30,000.
Hinchey believes the files of the Federal Bureau of Investigation as well as the Pentagon and Central Intelligence Agency, which closely monitored their South American military allies, could help Argentina prosecute these crimes, and perhaps identify hundreds more of the young people who were stolen as babies from political prisoners.
Hinchey, a Democrat from New York, has failed to persuade the GOP-controlled Congress to declassify the Argentina files, most recently in May. But since the documents involved are more than 25 years old, Hinchey argued in his letter that Obama can simply declassify them by executive order, without congressional approval and avoiding a long backlog of other classified files awaiting review.
Congress did approve a similar amendment by Hinchey in 1999 that led to the publication of 24,000 declassified U.S. documents on Chile, helping that country prosecute crimes against humanity committed during the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet.
The Argentine Embassy in Washington said it would have no comment on the letter.
Warren can be reached at http://twitter.com/mwarrenap.
Associated Press writer Luis Alonso Lugo in Washington contributed to this report.