UW files suit against CIA for documents on El Salvador massacre

Dina Cabrera holds a photo of herself with her son taken in 1982 in the Mesa Grande refugee camp by Philippe Bourgois. Dina was five months pregnant during the November 1981 invasion. (Photo by Keny Sibrian via UW Center for Human Rights Twitter.)
Dina Cabrera holds a photo of herself with her son taken in 1982 in the Mesa Grande refugee camp by Philippe Bourgois. Dina was five months pregnant during the November 1981 invasion. (Photo by Keny Sibrian via UW Center for Human Rights.)

A University of Washington program is suing the CIA in federal court, saying that the agency is withholding documents relating to the 1981 Santa Cruz massacre in El Salvador that should be made public.

In its lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle last week, the University of Washington Center for Human Rights claims that the CIA is withholding documents from public disclosure, including some have already been made public.

The withheld documents include information on Sigifredo Ochoa Pérez, the Salvadoran commander who witnesses say directed an operation that resulted in the slaughter of dozens of civilians at Santa Cruz, according to the lawsuit.

The center has has filed more than 200 document requests to the CIA under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) since 2013, according to its press release.

According to the center’s press release, the CIA would “neither confirm nor deny the existence or nonexistence of records,” due to national security concerns.

But the Center for Human Rights disputes the denial because their request included documents relating to Ochoa have already been declassified, said University of Washington student Mina Manuchehri, who is a named party in the federal case and is the lead FOIA researcher.

Why didn’t they at least give us copies of those same documents?” she said in a prepared statement. “There can be no national security concerns about documents that have already been made public.”

Students and staff at the UW Center for Human Rights have been working on justice issues in El Salvador for several years, including in legal matters and in preserving the history of the country’s civil war.

Coverage:

University of Washington Center for Human Rights: Center for Seeking information on El Salvador Atrocities, University of Washington Center for Human Rights Sues CIA

The Seattle TimesUW law student sues CIA over data on Salvadoran Army officer

The Stranger: The University of Washington Is Taking the CIA to Court

The Seattle Globalist: Seattleites renew fight for justice in El Salvador’s dirty wars

Editor’s note: this story has been corrected. The University of Washington Center for Human Rights is the principal plaintiff of the suit.

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