LI is surprised, this morning, that the Bush administration came through on an old American promise, and released documents on the 1970s Terror in Argentina.
LI has no doubt they were sifted to remove various inconvenient names -- such as Kissinger's -- but it is one of the few applaudable American actions of the past couple of months. Here are two grafs:
"One embassy dispatch, for example, cites an Argentine source who says that captured leftist fighters, known as Montoneros, were all dealt with in the same way, through "torture and summary execution."
"The security forces neither trust nor know how to use legal solutions," the dispatch quotes the source as saying. "The present methods are easier and more familiar."
Now, LI has always thought that the great mystery of the Argentina terror was whether the Monteneros weren't ultimately led by an agent provacateur. This is the thesis put forth in a great book of political reportage, "Dossier Secreto: Argentina's Desaparecidos and the Myth of the "Dirty War," by Martin Edward Anderson. The leader of the Monteneros, the sinister Mario Firmenich, survived the military repression, and is now, we believe, languishing in jail, an odd scapegoat in the accord that basically allowed the fascist apparat in Argentina to escape, unscathed, with its crimes. According to Jorge Castaneda's history of the Latin American left, the money accrued by the Montonero's policy of systematic kidnapping went to Cuba, and thence to the Sandinistas, with Castro acting as a broker. There's a strange parallel in the course of action taken by the right and left in Argentina, with the right proceeding to install a cocaine-ish military regime in Bolivia and aiding the Contras with weapons and training, and the left helping the Sandinistas even up to training their secret police. Meanwhile, in Argentina, the guerrillas proudly proclaimed their responsibility for acts of violence some of which they certainly did not commit. Firminich seemed to have a passion for the planning and committing of acts that were, from the perspective of either damaging the regime or rousing the people, so grossly misplanned, and so criminal, that they seem congruent with the military's own on-going effort to legitimate its counter-terror to the population. And that population, of course, went about its business purposely not noticing the disapppearance of this or that person, or the body parts washing up on the banks of the La Plata. For what was special about Argentina was that the crimes were known as they were being committed.
Moral is, of course, don't think that the good middle class will necessarily rise up in revolt if some of its sons and daughters, and many of its troublemakers, are bloodied. In fact, in the U.S., how many have risen up, so far, and asked questions about the illegal detention of at least a thousand people since 9/11? Count em on your fingers. This is not even an issue going into the November election. And if these arabic named guys and gals disappear, does anybody imagine the American population drawing back in revulsion?
Now, Anderson's thesis would be absurd in the world as it is portrayed in your average daily paper. That is the newspaper, by the way, that publishes, with the utmost credulity, scare stories fomented by the Attorney General's office about the capture of terrorists with dirty bombs in the A section -- and publishes retractions of those stories months later, in the C section, if at all. But the figure of the agent provocateur is all too common in the political netherworld -- as Joseph Conrad shows in Under Western Eyes. And in Argentina, the idea that the Montonero high command could have been working on an agenda that converged with the military agenda has floated around for some time. In a memorial notice to the great Argentina journalist Rudolfo Walsh, a journalist for the Buenos Aires Herald recently discussed the possibility that his ambush and assassination was a set-up:
"At the moment of his death, Walsh, disguised as an old-age pensioner, was on his way to a meeting with Jos� Salgado, the Montonero and police officer who - in July 1976 - placed in the Central Police Department the bomb which killed 20 policemen and maimed some 60 others. Strangely enough, Walsh - who was a high-ranking member of Montoneros intelligence - did not know on that fatal morning Salgado had been captured months previously, tortured beyond recognition and executed. In other words Rodolfo Walsh was set up by his own Montoneros whose leadership may have been working with and for the armed forces. The point has never been clarified, but there can be no doubt some terrorists were serving both masters and not everyone was as committed to their ideals as Rodolfo Walsh was."
That Walsh, a moralist in the tradition of Kraus and Peguy, and a journalist in the mould of Seymor Hersch, could countenance Salgado, tells us something about the state of terror then existing. Walsh's daughter, incidentally, was killed in a shootout with the cops the year before Walsh was bushwacked. Walsh's career is not known in the U.S. -- he hasn't been translated -- so for our American readers, here's a summary of his career:
"He is credited with being the father of investigative journalism in Argentina. In 1957 he published Operaci�n Masacre - based on an interview with a survivor - which tells the real story of how a group of 34 men, most of whom had no connection with a recent revolt against the Aramburu dictatorship, were taken to a garbage dump in Jos� Le�n Su�rez, a suburb of Buenos Aires, and summarily executed in a hail of machine gun fire. "All Peronists", said Per�n, "are indebted to the author of Operaci�n Masacre", but Walsh was now a marked man and anonymous death threats became part of his life.
"In 1969 he published �Qui�n Mat� a Rosendo? which tells how trade-unionist, Rosendo Garc�a, died in an Avellaneda pizzeria in a shoot-out between rival unionists, Raimundo Ongaro and Augusto �Wolf� Vandor (2). In 1973 he published �El Caso Satanovsky� which tells the sordid tale of the murder of a leading lawyer who was litigating against the military government. None of these cases were ever solved and Rodolfo Walsh became an unpopular name for many powerful people for having investigated them."
LI wonders whether the full story of what happened in the seventies in Latin America will ever be uncovered. But certain things can be uncovered by the determined individual investigator. Although I could not find a photo of Jose Salgado, I did find a picture of a kid -- Alfredo Daniel Salgado -- whose clear and present danger to the State was snuffed, no doubt by an airplane trip, or the bloody necessity of torture. The Sinolvido site, by the way, contains photos of 3,000 of the disappeared. The high school album.