My Only Friend is My Conscience (The New York Review of Books)
Between errands and a family dinner one Sunday in October 2015, Professor Angelina Godoy hurried to her office at the University of Washington in Seattle to pick up a book for her teenage daughter. When she unlocked the door, it took her a moment to notice that her computer was gone. An external hard-drive had been taken, too. There was sensitive information on both of the stolen devices about a pending lawsuit against the Central Intelligence Agency, and a former, once-powerful Salvadoran colonel with ties to the US. In place of the computer on her desk was a hand-carved wooden cat about three inches long with its front paws extended and its back arched. The cat used to sit on the top of her computer monitor—a trinket brought back from a trip to Mexico—but whoever moved it had taken some care: it was angled to face Godoy’s chair as though to suggest watchful eyes.
Godoy is the director of the university’s human rights center, a small, interdisciplinary body run by a few faculty members, two full-time staffers, and a team of students. For the past four years, the center has been filing public records requests with the CIA, the State Department, and the Pentagon, seeking declassified government cables about the civil war in El Salvador, which the country’s right-wing military fought, with the US’s help, against leftist guerrillas from 1980 to 1992. Some seventy-five thousand Salvadoran civilians died in the fighting, making it one of the US’s ugliest, and bloodiest, cold war interventions. The government cables Godoy’s center was analyzing told the moment-by-moment story of a failed American war effort, narrated by officials who were discovering the sordid truth about their Salvadoran allies.