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Is U.S. hiding past role in Chile?

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WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and George Tenet, director of central intelligence, are at odds over the extent to which the United States should release documentation of its involvement with repressive Latin American regimes in decades past.

During a visit to South America last week, Albright pledged to push for the "fullest possible declassification" of files related to the coup that toppled Chile's elected Socialist government and the 17-year military dictatorship that followed.

She also promised to start reviewing for release documents about Argentina's "disappeared" and their children, victims of state-sanctioned kidnappings during successive regimes between 1976 and 1983.

But Tenet recently notified members of Congress that he had decided to withhold an unspecified number of documents about Chile on the grounds they would disclose too much about how his agency conducts its business.

The documents release was scheduled Sept. 14.

President Clinton last year ordered the national security agencies to "retrieve and review for declassification documents that shed light on human rights abuses, terrorism and other acts of political violence in Chile" between 1968 and 1990.

Tenet said he would submit the documents for a final interagency review and insisted, "We are in no way trying to withhold information embarrassing to the United States government."

But advocates of a broader declassification of documents voice concerns that Tenet is doing just that: withholding details of American complicity in the overthrow of a democratic government and, by extension, in the repressive regime that followed.

The outlines of CIA operations in Chile have been in the public domain for a quarter century.

American records related to recent repression in Argentina are not expected to provide as rich a historical trove. That country's first military coup, in 1976, coincided with the election of President Carter, whose human rights campaign strained ties with the architects of a "dirty war" that eventually killed more than 15,000 people.

The White House declined to say whether Clinton would back up the openness of his top diplomat or ratify the caution of his spymaster. A spokesman, said the matter is still under review.