When President Obama visits Chile next month, he is going to be hit with a request that is certain to make people in the Pentagon, the CIA, and the U.S. State Department uncomfortable. According to an article in today’s Washington Post, survivors of Chilean military dictator Augusto Pinochet’s reign of terror are going to request that Obama declassify hundreds of secret U.S. government documents relating to the 1973 military coup that led to the ouster of democratically elected socialist-communist President Salvador Allende and the subsequent U.S.-supported brutal military dictatorship of Pinochet.
Why does the U.S. government persist on keeping documents secret that relate to a foreign coup almost 40 years ago, one in which the U.S. government has consistently maintained it had nothing to do with?
Several possible reasons arise:
1. U.S. officials, especially those in the Pentagon and the CIA, might still feel a sense of loyalty to Pinochet’s memory and his henchmen. Don’t forget that before the Pentagon and the CIA were partnering with and supporting the tyrannical dictators of the Middle East, they were celebrating Pinochet’s assumption to power. In fact, long before the CIA entered into its rendition-torture agreements with dictatorial regimes like Syria and Egypt and its war-on-terrorism assassination program, the CIA was participating with Pinochet’s anti-communist group known as DINA, whose agents assassinated former Chilean official Orlando Letelier and his young American assistant Ronni Moffitt on the streets of Washington, D.C., under the same basic “national security” rationale as the U.S. government’s torture and assassination programs.
2. There is always the possibility that the documents might reflect that the U.S. government’s denial of participation in Pinochet’s coup has been a lie from the get-go. Let’s not forget that for some 25 years U.S. officials, including those in the CIA, knowingly and intentionally lied about participating in the murder of a young American journalist named Charles Horman during the coup. Many years after the killing and the false denials, the State Department released a document that reflected that the CIA had in fact participated in the murder of that young American.
Were the CIA agents involved in the killing brought to justice? Nope. Do we know their names? Nope. Do we know why they helped to murder Horman? Nope. Did Congress ever issue subpoenas to the CIA and conduct hearings into the killing? Nope. Did the Justice Department ever seek grand jury indictments of the killers? Nope. Did the U.S. government ever ask the Chilean government to prosecute the killers? Nope. Hey, this is the CIA we’re talking about!
Question: How is it possible that the U.S. government, including the CIA, was not involved in the Chilean coup if it was involved in the murder of an American journalist during the coup?
3. The documents might reveal U.S. participation in the arbitrary arrests, torture, rapes, and killings by Pinochet’s goons. More than 3,000 people were killed by the Pinochet military-police-intelligence machine, many after being tortured and raped, all of which Pinochet justified under such popular rationales for government wrongdoing as “national security” and “the communist threat.”
4. The declassification of the documents and their possible use by Chilean investigators and prosecutors might cause the American people to begin asking why their own government doesn’t prosecute its own officials for such crimes as torture, indefinite detention, rape, abuse, and extra-judicial execution. According to the Post’s article, more than 600 military officials and civilian collaborators have been tried by Chilean officials. That’s a precedent that surely sends shivers up the spines of U.S. military officials, CIA officials, and civilian collaborators who have committed the same types of crimes under the rubric of the popular mantras “national security” and “the war on terrorism.”
The Chilean people deserve credit for confronting the darkness of their past. Some years ago, they came to the realization that their nation could not genuinely move forward by sweeping the horrible crimes of the Pinochet regime under the rug. Too bad Americans aren’t there yet, which is why Obama will likely get away with refusing to grant the Chilean people’s request to open up all the U.S. government’s files relating to the Chilean darkness.