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President Obama is in Argentina, and his visit coincides with the anniversary of a dark moment in that country's history. Forty years ago tomorrow, a military coup ushered in the so-called Dirty War, when thousands of Argentinians were killed or disappeared. Human rights groups want the U.S. to come clean about what it knew back then, and President Obama announced today that he'll release more documents from that era. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.
MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: At his office at the George Washington University library, Carlos Osorio shows off boxes and boxes of document. These are papers that his research organization, the National Security Archives, forced the U.S. government to declassify years ago. He says some appear to show a former secretary of state giving coup leaders in Argentina the green light to go after their enemies.
CARLOS OSORIO: In the early 1976 through January '77, Henry Kissinger took the U.S. policy into his hands, and he was deliberately telling the military, at every point through the year, we will support you.
KELEMEN: Though Kissinger has denied any complicity, Osorio says the State Department quietly released U.S. security assistance to Argentina, even as the U.S. ambassador at the time was reporting human rights abuses piling up.
OSORIO: So they start to disappear these people - scientists, Argentine scientist, nuclear scientists, painters, journalists, famous historians start to be disappeared, and people start to ask the embassy to help with this.
KELEMEN: Osorio says, while the ambassador was raising these concerns, Secretary Kissinger was sending a different message to Argentina's foreign minister.
OSORIO: Whatever needs to be done, do it quickly.
KELEMEN: He says this is just a glimpse of U.S. policy through State Department papers that are already declassified. President Obama today promised to release military and intelligence documents, which researchers expect to be even juicier. A U.S. human rights advocate, Elisa Massimino, says her contacts in Argentina are eager for any scrap of information about family members who disappeared.
ELISA MASSIMINO: They're looking for answers. They're also, I think, looking for a deeper and more accurate understanding of the role of the United States.
KELEMEN: Massimino says some activists in Argentina were angry when they first learned that President Obama would visit of the anniversary of the military coup. Her organization, Human Rights First, saw the visit as an opportunity to press the White House.
MASSIMINO: The release of these documents, it's hugely important not only for the people of Argentina, who are continuing to struggle to come to grips with that period, but also, it's important for Americans, too because we have to come to terms with our own role in the Dirty War.
KELEMEN: That thought was echoed by Carlos Osorio, who says he'll advise the White House on what to look for and where. He says the administration could come away from this awkwardly timed trip looking good.
OSORIO: If it was a gaff, well, they just came out of it in a genius way.
KELEMEN: That is through what he's calling declassification diplomacy. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.
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