The Atrocity Files: Deciphering the Archives of Guatemala's Dirty War

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Harpers Magazine carries a feature article this month by the National Security Archive's Kate Doyle on what has been described by the New York Times as “the biggest trove of files found in the history of Latin America.” Titled “The Atrocity Files: Deciphering the Archives of Guatemala's Dirty War,” the 7,000-word article describes the massive effort underway to rescue the recently discovered records of the brutal former Guatemalan National Police – estimates are that the collection may reach 50 million pages – and how analysts and human rights investigators are sifting through the documents for evidence of human rights crimes.

Doyle directs the Guatemala Documentation Project at the National Security Archive. She has played a key role in organizing international efforts to secure, preserve, and analyze records from the National Police Archive. “The discovery of this stunning cache of police files offers Guatemalans an unparalleled opportunity to recover a secret history,” says Doyle, “and confirms through official records a government policy of repression and terror that left more than 200,000 citizens dead or disappeared after 36 years of civil conflict.”

Sample text:

“As we moved from room to room, the policewomen accompanied us, obligingly yanking open drawers when requested or slipping pages out of bound folders to show us. They balked only once, when we came upon a pile of records from the old Detective Corps, a greatly feared special-operations squad that existed in the 1970s and early 1980s, notorious for the kidnapping, torture, and execution of suspected subversives. We asked the woman in charge to hand us some file folders, but she began shaking her head no and then her finger, shaking it at us, no, no, “No se puede, no se puede,” “that can’t be done.” It took us a few minutes to understand: we weren’t prohibited from looking at them, but she still had strict orders, almost ten years after the abolition of the National Police, not to touch.”

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