Harrowing images of civilians who disappeared during the Guatemalan civil war illuminated the screen behind Kate Doyle, senior analyst of the National Security Archive, when she spoke in Washington Hall Thursday night.
Doyle discussed using declassified U.S. intelligence records and recently unearthed records from the Guatemalan National Police in human rights trials in Guatemala.
“Kate Doyle has been deeply involved in truth commissions in South America,” history professor Betsy Konefal said. “She has testified in numerous trials against perpetrators of human rights violations based on these documents.”
Government transparency is key for the National Security Archive, an institution of George Washington University that publishes tens of thousands of declassified government documents for public use.
“There has been an important emerging principle in the Americas: the right to truth,” Doyle said. “The right to truth is powerfully linked to justice. We use the Freedom of Information Act as a tool to pry open the secret archives of our own government in an effort to understand our own hidden histories.”
Doyle explained to the audience that much of the violence in Guatemala came from the American fear of Communism.
“After the Cold War, the new national security apparatus brought about a new secrecy, which in part served to shield the American public from operations all over the world that may not have fit into our value system,” Doyle said. “The evolution of our policy in Guatemala has evolved dramatically over the years.”
According to Doyle, Guatemala had a long history of military dictators until the mid-1940s when two successive governments that seemed to represent a new democratic awakening took power. The United States saw these governments as potential communist threats, however, and under President Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Central Intelligence Agency engineered a coup that sparked a period of violence.
Despite the extensive violence in Guatemala, there has been little discussion until now about pursuing the government officials who terrorized civilians during the civil war.
“Guatemala is an outlier,” Doyle said. “It is not known well, and it has the highest number of civilians killed during this violent time — 200,000 people were killed in the three decade counterinsurgency push. Thousands disappeared.”
Doyle discussed the Panzos massacre — a brutal incident that incited Guatemalan civilians to fight back against the military regime for documents about their lost loved ones. However, they were largely unsuccessful in finding papers that linked the massacre and disappearances to the Guatemalan police or leaders.
“The real breakthrough in Guatemala was the discovery of a complete archive of the National Police,” Doyle said. “The discovery involved evidence of thousands of victims — photos of bodies, photos of people in the concrete cages where they kept them,” Doyle said.
Doyle also talked about Nineth Garcia, who created the first human rights group in Guatemala to right the wrongs of the 1980s government campaign of terror after her husband, Edgar Fernando Garcia, was captured and never seen again. In 2009, two former members of the Guatemalan police were tried and imprisoned for his kidnapping and execution.
“I was surprised by the discovery of the police archives and that they can use them for investigations,” Megan O’Neil, associate professor of art and art history, said. “Doyle is a dynamic speaker who is doing extremely important work in finding documents to help prosecute crimes.”
Doyle was part of an international relations speaker series; the next event will be a showing of “Granito” in Andrews 101 Thursday, followed by a question-and-answer session with the film’s director, Pamela Yates.