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UW settles suit against CIA over ‘top secret’ data on Salvadoran Army officer

By Mike Carter Seattle Times

The University of Washington’s Center for Human Rights has settled its 2015 Freedom-of-Information lawsuit against the CIA, receiving new information in its quest to reveal alleged abuses by U.S.-backed troops during El Salvador’s civil war.

The settlement, reached last week, resulted in the release of 139 CIA documents formerly designated “secret “ or “top secret,” some of which have never been seen outside the agency, said center Director Angelina Snodgrass Godoy, who holds the Helen H. Jackson Chair in Human Rights at the UW.

“We are very pleased with the results of the lawsuit,” she said in an emailed statement from a conference in Europe.

Emily Langlie, the spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Seattle, said the agency and its attorneys “worked cooperatively with the University of Washington to produce all releaseable material and resolve this matter.”

One thing the agreement does not do is resolve or address the suspicious theft of a computer and hard drive from Godoy’s office shortly after the lawsuit was filed that contained much of the information the center had gathered on El Salvador and the target of the Freedom of Information Act requests, former El Salvadoran Col. Sigifredo Ochoa Pérez, and his alleged ties to the U.S. The theft coincided with a visit to the UW campus by then-CIA director John Brennan.

Ochoa Pérez is suspected of brutalizing and killing civilians in his hunt for leftist rebels during the country’s civil war, which raged from 1980 until 1991.

“The results of that investigation were inconclusive,” Godoy said.

The settlement, reached after more than two years of behind-doors negotiations, notes that the center still has several outstanding Freedom of Information Act requests pending that were not covered by the lawsuit.

The lawsuit was filed in 2015 by a fellow at the Center for Human Rights and alleged the spy agency withheld records regarding Ochoa Pérez and his ties to the agency and U.S. military.

The action also challenges the CIA’s denial of records relating to UCLA anthropology professor Philippe Bourgois, who survived a massacre allegedly led by Ochoa Pérez in 1981 in Santa Cruz, El Salvador.

The lawsuit claimed the CIA had refused to release some documents that had been made public elsewhere.

Godoy, in her statement, said the 139 documents released under the settlement ranged in length from one to 42 pages. Some that had been released previously were obtained with fewer or no redactions, she said. Others were new and have not been seen outside the CIA.

“We continue our research to bring about greater understanding of the human rights abuses committed during the armed conflict in El Salvador,” Godoy said.

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