Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Authenticity of Documents in Guatemalan Genocide Case

Emily Willard has a recent post on Unredacted (the blog of the great National Security Archive) called "Genocide Trial against Rios Montt: Declassified Documents Provide Key Evidence" which discusses documentary evidence used by a Guatemalan court to determine that there was sufficient evidence to "charge former dictator Efrain Rios Montt with genocide and crimes against humanity." The post notes that a
key piece of evidence to prove chain of command that was presented at the trial is the collection of secret Guatemalan military documents, Plan Sofia. The official Guatemalan government records of this counterinsurgency operation prove the criminal responsibility of senior government and military officials in the country's genocide by detailing how the chain of command functioned during the war, says National Security Archive senior analyst Kate Doyle. [See Doyle's first-hand account of her testimony, here.] The 365-page document was smuggled out of a secret military archive, given to Doyle and made public by the National Security Archive in December of 2009 after a lengthy authentication process.
The whole story is interesting, but the authentication issues are particularly relevant for the topic of captured documents where there are frequently questions of authenticity (see, for example, discussion here).  As the National Security Archive described earlier, Kate Doyle testified in the Guatemalan case about "the authenticity of the documents" based on "months of analysis, which included evaluations of letterheads and signatures on the documents and comparisons to other available military records."  Ultimately, the analysis concluded that "these records were created by military officials during the regime of Efrain Rios Montt to plan and implement a 'scorched earth' policy on Mayan communities in El Quiche."