As a special tribunal in Peru pronounced former president Alberto Fujimori guilty of human rights atrocities, the National Security Archive today posted key declassified U.S. documents that were submitted as evidence in the court proceedings. The declassified records contain intelligence gathered by U.S. officials from Peruvian sources on the secret creation of “assassination teams” as part of Fujimori’s counterterrorism operations, the role of the Peruvian security forces in human rights atrocities and Fujimori’s participation in protecting the military from investigation.
Fujimori was tried for two major massacres: the execution of fourteen adults and an eight-year old boy in the Barrios Altos neighborhood of Lima on November 3, 1991; and the kidnapping, disappearance and assassination of nine students and a professor from La Cantuta University on July 18, 1992. Both atrocities were committed by a military death squad known as La Colina, believed to be supervised by Fujimori’s closest advisor, Vladimiro Montesinos. Fujimori, who was Peru’s president from 1990 to 2000 when he was forced to resign in a major corruption scandal, is also being prosecuted for the abduction of a well known journalist, Gustavo Gorriti, in April 1992.
The trial began on December 10, 2007. Since then dozens of witnesses have testified on Fujimori’s responsibility as commander-in-chief for the operations of his security forces.
In September 2008, Archive Senior Analyst Kate Doyle gave expert testimony in the trial on the nature of the 21 U.S. documents that were submitted to the court as evidence by the prosecution team. During her testimony she noted that the documents reflected the conclusions of the U.S. Embassy that Fujimori had engaged in a “covert strategy to aggressively fight against subversion through terror operations, disregarding human rights, and legal norms.”
Among the key documents used during the trial is a U.S. embassy report, classified secret, from August 1990, just after Fujimori’s election. Based on a debriefing of a former intelligence agent in Peru, the Embassy reported that Fujimori planned a “two tiered anti-subversion plan”—a public policy that adhered to human rights, and a covert set of operations that would “include army special operations units trained in extra-judicial assassinations.”
The prosecution of Fujimori comes ten years after the ground-breaking arrest of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, and is part of an accelerated movement in Latin America to hold human rights violators accountable. “The exercise of justice in the Fujimori case,” noted Peter Kornbluh, a senior analyst at the Archive who attended the trial last fall, “sends a signal through Latin America, and onto the United States, that those who authorize human rights abuses in the name of fighting terrorism are not immune from prosecution.”
Fujimori faces up to 30 years in prison.
Read the Documents:
Note: These documents were among 21 declassified U.S. records provided by the National Security Archive to the special tribunal conducting the Fujimori trial. They were originally obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by Peru analyst Tamara Feinstein and FOIA specialist Jeremy Bigwood.
Document 1: U.S. Embassy, Cable, Secret, Reported Secret Annex to National Pacification/Human Rights Plan, Aug. 23, 1990, 5 pp.
Only weeks after Fujimori’s election, an intelligence officer working with the SIN (the National Intelligence Service) reported to U.S. embassy officials on a covert plan, purportedly “the brainchild of presidential advisor Vladimiro Montesinos,” to conduct extra-judicial assassinations of suspected terrorists. “The training of these new ‘assassination teams’ is already underway,” the source reported. He also stated that the plan had “the tacit approval of President Fujimori.”
Document 2: U.S. Embassy Cable, Secret, Barrios Altos Massacre: One Month Later, December 4, 1991, Secret, 2 pp.
The Fujimori government has showed little “political will” to investigate the Barrios Altos massacre and find the perpetrators of the crime, the embassy reported. At this early stage, the Embassy has concluded that the security forces were involved in the killing. “There is no high level political pressure to root out the culprits in this case,” according to the cable. “President Fujimori has not made a public issue of it.”
Document 3: U.S. Embassy, Cable, Secret, Barrios Altos Massacre, December 13, 1991, 2 pp.
Ambassador Quainton reports on meeting with Fujimori, and other government officials, at graduation ceremonies at the Peruvian Military Academy. Quainton makes it clear that the U.S. embassy is concerned about military involvement in the Barrios Altos massacre and the lack of any investigation. “”I told him,” as Quainton cabled, that “the very institution—the Army—which he had been praising at the graduation ceremonies was being discredited by allegations of paramilitary involvement in the Barrios Altos killing.” According to Gloria Cano, the lead lawyer for the Peruvian human rights group, APRODEH, this document provided critical evidence that Fujimori was cognizant of the involvement of his security forces almost a year before he admitted publicly.
Document 4: U.S. Embassy Cable, [Excised] Comments on Fujimori, Montesinos, but not on Barrios Altos, January 22, 1993, Secret, 10 pp.
An undisclosed source describes the close and complicated relationship between President Fujimori and his top intelligence aide, Vladimiro Montesinos. The source notes that while Fujimori understands the importance of human rights, in practice he “is prepared to sacrifice principles to achieve a quick victory over terrorism.” He is “absolutely committed to destroying Sendero Luminoso and the MRTA within his five year term and is prepared to countenance any methods that achieve that goal.”
Document 5: U.S. Embassy, Cable, Secret, Army Officers on ‘Show of Force;’ Barrios Altos and Death Squads, April 27, 1993, 4 pp.
The Embassy reports on how the military is justifying its public show of force—tanks in the street—to repel any type of Congressional investigation into official complicity in the Barrios Altos massacre. The Embassy source, described as an “Army field grade officer,” admits that the military was responsible for both the Barrios Altos and La Cantuta atrocities, which he describes as “stupidly planned and executed.”
Document 6: U.S. State Department, Cable, Secret, La Cantuta Demarche, June 8, 1993, 3 pp.
Peter Tarnoff, a high-ranking State Department official, instructs the embassy to issue a demarche to Fujimori on the La Cantuta atrocity and to demand that the allegations of Peruvian government involvement be “thoroughly and impartially investigated.” Among the talking points sent by Washington are: “recent allegations suggest that a unit organized within the armed forces carried out a series of disappearances at La Cantuta and was responsible for the Barrios Altos incident.” The embassy is ordered to tell Fujimori: “If it is indeed true that the armed forces have organized such units, this is a very serious affair.”
The National Security Archive is an independent non-governmental research institute and library located at The George Washington University, the Archive collects and publishes declassified documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.