08/08/2014 10:37 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

A Bittersweet Ending to The Official Story , Loaded With Learnings for the American People


Credit: Mónica Hasenberg via Wikimedia Commons

The miraculous finding of the kidnapped-at-birth grandson of the head of a leading Argentine human-rights organization is worthy of noting not just for the closing it brings to this human drama but because it sheds light on the crimes that governments commit in the name of security.

And for that reason, valuable lessons can be drawn for many around the world, including the U.S.A.

It is the real story of the The Official Story, the 1985 moving film starring Norma Aleandro.

On Aug. 6 Argentina rejoiced at the news that Estela de Carlotto, president of the group Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo, had found her grandson, Guido, kidnapped at birth by the military junta in 1978, which had kidnapped, tortured and murdered her daughter Laura, who was pregnant.

She was one of thousands of victims of the so-called "dirty war."

Miss Carlotto, now 83 years old, decided to fight the dictatorship and joined a group of mothers of missing children and, braving repression, engaged in nonviolent resistance to hold weekly vigils in central Buenos Aires, their heads covered in white handkerchiefs that became their symbol.

Years of picketing, marching, canvassing, petitioning, lengthy litigation, forensic research, and moving Heaven and Earth helped the grandmothers become a major force in the removal of the military dictatorship and their eventual prosecution for crimes against humanity.

Estimates of the number of dead and disappeared range between 8,000 and 30,000, and some 500 children are thought to have been stolen.

With Guido Carlotto, 114 of these children, now adults, have been found.

Miss Carlotto has requested privacy so that she can enjoy her newly found grandson, number 14, and that's a great segue into another news item that's related to this story in more ways than one: the CIA torture report that the Senate has been promising and keeps delaying.

As it stands today, no one disputes that the CIA tortured many people (or, as President Obama said, "some folks") during the period following the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

A Senate committee headed by Dianne Feinstein has been preparing the report.

The CIA has been snooping on the committee's computers, and two senators asked for CIA Director John Brennan's resignation.

The CIA is now reviewing the report and "redacting" much of its contents.

A not-very-pleased Sen. Feinstein says, "I have concluded the redactions eliminate or obscure key facts that support the report's findings and conclusions."

Yet the president responds that he has "full confidence" in the director.

As the tug-of-war continues over what the public can see, this is how the CIA torture report links to the case of Guido Carlotto.

U.S. intelligence agencies played a major role in the so-called "dirty war" that murdered Mrs. Carlotto's daughter in 1978. Her killing was all part of a grand strategy known as "Operation Condor."

Veteran correspondent John Dinges, now a journalism professor at Columbia with encyclopedic knowledge of Latin America in the 1970s and '80s, describes it:

From 1975 to 1977 military regimes in Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Chile and Argentina rounded up thousands of people who were suspected of having affiliations with radical leftist movements and put them into concentration camps and secret detention centers. Many "disappeared" -- they were tortured, interrogated, executed and secretly buried. ...

While Latin American countries are probing the uncomfortable details of their repressive past, there has never been full accounting of US liaison and collaboration with the Latin American agencies carrying out the repression. The issue is not only whether a single FBI agent crossed a line by distributing and acting on information he knew was gained by torture. The real question goes to the shared objectives between US agencies and Gestapo-like secret police organizations in Latin America, and to the US policies that justified working with them in full knowledge and tacit approval of their methods.

In the Argentine case, after civilians returned to power in 1983, the torturing junta members thought they had gotten away with it and did so for 20 years, until Nestor Kirchner was elected president and overturned the impunity laws.

In 2013, under president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, former military leaders involved in the crimes were prosecuted and eventually sentenced.

"This is a huge step to achieve the truth internationally," political scientist Atilio Borón said at the time to the Christian Science Monitor. "Argentina has been able to push for justice because civil society is today stronger than the military, but other countries have not managed to swing the balance."

And that's a lesson the U.S. can learn from Argentina: that government crimes and abuses in the name of security need to be fully exposed, the guilty prosecuted and justice rendered to the victims.

Because it's the right thing to do. And because it strengthens civil society.