Update: The Guatemalan Death Squad Diary and the Right to Truth

Photograph by Jean-Marie Simon in Guatemala in the 1980s of family members searching for their disappeared loved ones. Several of the photographs on this poster are of people who appear in the Diario Militar.

National Security Archive Expert Testifies before International Court

Fundación Myrna Mack Calls Hearing “Unprecedented

Source: National Security Archive

On April 25, 2012, Kate Doyle, senior analyst and director of the Guatemala Documentation Project at the National Security Archive, provided expert witness testimony before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in the case of the Diario Militar (Case 12.590, Gudiel Álvarez et al. (Diario Militar) vs. Guatemala) during the Court’s 45th Extraordinary Session held in Guayaquil, Ecuador. Doyle’s prepared testimony was followed by questioning by the Petitioners’ legal representatives, and nearly 45 minutes of questioning by the seven judges. The representatives for the State chose to not ask questions.

The following text is an excerpt of Doyle’s testimony. Slides referenced in testimony can be found in a copy of the power point presentation (9.08 MB).

25 April 2012

Guayaquil, Ecuador

To begin, the State of Guatemala has systematically hidden the information in its power about the internal armed conflict. The Guatemalan Army, the Police and the intelligence services are intrinsically opaque, secretive and closed institutions, and it has been almost impossible to gain access to their records. This policy of silence has survived the peace accords; it has survived the Historical Clarification Commission; and it continues today – despite the discovery of archives, the exhumations of clandestine cemeteries, the criminal convictions of perpetrators of human rights violations, and the unceasing demand for information by families of the disappeared.

In the 1980s, the State’s counterinsurgency strategy to kidnap, secretly detain, torture and execute men and women because of their political activities mobilized family members desperate to learn of the whereabouts of their loved ones. [SLIDE 1] They not only searched in hospitals, jails, cemeteries and morgues; they also directly confronted military officials and the chief of State. But the response was always the same: silence, ridicule, threats or worse.

That was also the experience of the Historical Clarification Commission (Comisión para el Esclarecimiento Histórico-CEH), [SLIDE 2], which from its earliest days tried to obtain information from State security agencies, but without success. I worked in collaboration with the commissioners and was witness to their frustration before the government’s repeated refusals to provide access to their archives. It had such an impact that in the final (twelfth) volume of their report the CEH reproduced dozens of letters between the three commissioners and the high command of the security institutions; letters that capture their exasperation in trying to obtain documents. [SLIDE 3] The letters also capture the implacable response of the authorities: No. There were no documents, documents did not exist, they had been destroyed, they had been lost, or they remained under the seal of national security.

During the very same week in which the CEH report was made public, in February 1999, the Military Logbook appeared. [SLIDE 4] The document was turned over to me and I made it public three months later in a press conference in Washington. It was exactly the kind of information sought repeatedly by the CEH, without success.

It was not until four years later that the first records of the Guatemalan Army emerged, with the dismantling of the Presidential General Staff ( Estado Mayor Presidencial-EMP) in 2003. It was a purged and fragmentary collection, and only recovered through the efforts of non-governmental organizations that insisted on copying them. Later the Human Rights Ombudsman (Procurador de Derechos Humanos-PDH) asked my organization to create a data base of the documents in order to facilitate access to them, but as far as I know there is still no public access to the database or the documents themselves.

We had our first real glimpse inside the State security apparatus during the conflict when the archives of the National Police were discovered in 2005. In fact employees of the PDH found them by accident during a visit to a police base in Guatemala City. [SLIDE 5] The accumulation of millions of pages of records was in a condition of extreme deterioration and abandon, hidden inside poorly maintained storage spaces. But after years of work to rescue, clean, organize and scan the documents, the archive is now fully accessible to the Guatemalan public without limit or restriction.

The Historical Archive of the National Police (Archivo Histórico de la Policía Nacional-AHPN) represents the entire documentary history generated by the National Police during more than 100 years. It contains an estimated eight linear kilometers of paper, videos, audiotapes, photographs, license plates, books and the ephemera of the revolutionary groups. Within the collection is every type of documentation: military and police plans for counterinsurgency operations [SLIDE 6], orders from the Director, political files on individuals [SLIDE 7], surveillance reports, interrogation transcripts [SLIDE 8], habeas corpus requests, telegrams, daily reports, circulars – many with the names and signatures of the officers in charge [SLIDE 9]. In short, it represents all of the paper necessary in order to make possible the flow of communications among the different National Police corps, and between the Police and other entities of the State, including the chief of State and the Army. To date, 2,530 documents have been found inside the AHPN with a direct relation to the captures registered in the Military Logbook.

Before the discovery of the archives, neither the families of the disappeared nor the CEH received a single page of these documents, despite their petitions to the State.

Today the Guatemalan Army’s policy of access regarding its own records continues to be a policy of denial. In 2009, the Defense Ministry responded to a judicial order that required it to produce four military documents as evidence in the genocide case, but it turned over only one complete record. The Ministry alleged that the others – including a key set of records relating to the 1982 counterinsurgency sweep called “Operation Sofía” – did not exist in its archives [SLIDE 10].

One month later, a person who requested anonymity gave me a package that contained the Operation Sofía documents, which I subsequently turned over to the Guatemalan Public Ministry. And that is how, in a national judicial process concerning crimes against humanity initiated in 2001, the petitioners did receive a Guatemalan document containing critical evidence – not from the institutions of the State that created it, but through my organization, a non-governmental group based in the United States.

Most recently, the Army responded to society’s demand for truth by opening a collection of “military archives” in June 2011. I have studied the archive – an unnecessarily difficult task, due to the lack of any index or guide – and I see no relevance in the documents to the study of the armed conflict. It is an apparently arbitrary collection, without any evident or transparent logic to its declassification, which contains thousands of pages of trivial and useless records that do not serve human rights investigators. Furthermore, according to the Ministry of Defense, there are no declassified records in the archive covering the most repressive period of the internal conflict, 1980-85.

The Army’s posture – and the legacy of silence about historic repression on the part of the State – has left survivors of the conflict and the family members of victims with less than nothing, with expectations raised by a peace process that to date has not resulted with the fundamental information they require: What happened and why? Who is responsible? And where are the disappeared?

Thank you.

For more information about the discovery of the Military Logbook and the Diario Militar case, see previous Archive publications on the left sidebar.

Also see our recent blog posting on Unredacted for a personal account of the Diario Militar trial, here.