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John S. McCain POW CIA-Defense Department Documents



2,370 Pages of White House, State Department, National Security Council, British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and British Prime Minister's Cabinet Office files on Idi Amin,..

Idi Amin was born in the 1920's in the West Nile Province.  His name at birth is disputed among researchers. In time he was to be known as Idi Amin Dada. In the 1940's Amin was recruited by a British colonial army officer. Amin joined the King's African Rifles (KAR) of the British colonial army in 1946. Amin took part in the British campaign to prevent the independence of Burma. Later he was deployed in Kenya as part of the 21st KAR infantry brigade against the Mau Mau rebellion until 1949, when his unit was deployed in Somalia to fight the Shifta, who were raiding cattle. Amin was promoted to corporal in 1952, and to sergeant in 1953. The following year, he was made effendi (warrant officer), the highest rank possible for a Black African in the Colonial British army. While in the colonial army, Amin became a Ugandan heavyweight boxing champ. After joining the Ugandan army in 1962, when the colony gained independence from Britain, he quickly rose up the ranks to commander of the armed forces in 1966.

Uganda's strategic position along the central African Rift Valley, its favorable climate and the reliable rainfall around the Lake Victoria Basin made it attractive to African cultivators and herders as early as the fourth century B.C. When Arab traders moved inland from their enclaves along the Indian Ocean coast of East Africa and reached the interior of Uganda in the 1830s, they found several African kingdoms with well-developed political  institutions dating back several centuries. These traders were followed in the 1860s by British explorers searching for the source of the Nile River. Protestant missionaries entered the country in 1877, followed by Catholic missionaries in 1879.

In 1888, control of the emerging British "sphere of interest" in East Africa was assigned by royal charter to the Imperial British East Africa Company, an arrangement strengthened in 1890 by an Anglo-German agreement confirming British dominance over Kenya and Uganda. The high cost of occupying the territory caused the company to withdraw in 1893, and its administrative functions were taken over by a British commissioner. In 1894, the Kingdom of Buganda was placed under a formal British protectorate.

Britain granted internal self-government to Uganda in 1961, with the first elections held on March 1, 1961. Benedicto Kiwanuka of the Democratic Party became the first Chief Minister. Uganda maintained its Commonwealth membership. In succeeding years, supporters of a centralized state vied with those in favor of a loose federation and a strong role for tribally based local kingdoms. Political maneuvering climaxed in February 1966, when Prime Minister Milton Obote suspended the constitution, assumed all government powers, and removed the president and vice president. In September 1967, a new constitution proclaimed Uganda a republic, gave the president even greater powers, and abolished the traditional kingdoms.

On January 25, 1971, Obote's government was ousted in a military coup led by armed forces commander Idi Amin Dada. Amin declared himself president, dissolved the parliament, and amended the constitution to give himself absolute power. He gave himself the title "His Excellency President for Life Field Marshal Al Hadji Dr. Idi Amin, VC, DSO, MC, Conqueror of the British Empire."

Idi Amin Dada took advantage of the turmoil in the military, the weakened popular support for the government, and Obote's absence while attending the meeting of Commonwealth Conference of Heads of Government at Singapore to seize control of the government. Claiming himself to be a professional soldier, not a politician, Amin promoted many of his staunchest supporters, both enlisted personnel and officers, to command positions. Nepotism received widespread publicity, as a number of laborers, drivers, and bodyguards became high-ranking officers, although they had little or no military training. Army recruiters suspended educational requirements for military service, sometimes forcing groups of urban unemployed to volunteer. After the army had established control over the civilian population, Amin unleashed a reign of terror against Uganda that lasted almost until the end of the decade.

In 1972, the Asians in Uganda, many of whom had come from other British colonies to work Uganda's plantations as far back as 1912, were given 90 days to leave the country with nothing.

The army changed composition under Amin's rule. By 1977 it had grown to 21,000 personnel, almost twice the 1971 level. Amin killed many of its more experienced officers and imprisoned others for plotting to weaken or overthrow his regime. A few fled the country rather than face the mounting danger. Amin also increased the number of military recruits from other countries, especially Sudan, Zaire, and Rwanda. By 1979 foreigners accounted for nearly 75 percent of the army, exacerbating problems of communication, training, and discipline. The government barely controlled some army units. A few became quasi-independent occupation garrisons, headed by violence-prone warlords who lived off the land by brutalizing the local population.

Idi Amin's 8-year rule produced economic decline, social disintegration, and massive human rights violations. The Acholi and Langi tribes were particular objects of Amin's political persecution because Obote and many of his supporters belonged to those tribes and constituted the largest group in the army.

Amin established several powerful internal security forces, including the State Research Bureau (SRB) and Public Safety Unit (PSU). Both terrorized local populations. By 1979 they had expanded to include about 15,000 people, many of whom acted as informers on fellow citizens. The SRB and PSU were responsible for many deaths. Their victims included people from all segments of society , who were accused of speaking or acting against the regime. One official observer estimated that two-thirds of Uganda's technocrats died or fled into exile during the 1970s. Amin also ordered the expulsion of the country's Asian community, which numbered approximately 70,000. These and other excesses drained the nation's human and financial resources; cash crop cultivation dwindled, most manufacturing ceased, and the economy collapsed. Social services, local government, and public works activities were almost non-existent.

In 1978, the International Commission of Jurists estimated that more than 100,000 Ugandans had been murdered during Amin's reign of terror; some authorities place the figure much higher, as high as 500,000.

Ugandan exiles told tales of severed heads kept in Idi Amin's refrigerator and the feeding of corpses to crocodiles. It has been reported that bodies were dumped into the River Nile because there were insufficient graves. At one point, so many bodies were fed to crocodiles that remains sometimes blocked intake ducts at the country's hydroelectric plant at Jinja. Amin has been accused of having one of his wives dismembered. He was also accused of cannibalism.

Amin sought strong ties to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The former Israeli embassy in Uganda was offered to them as headquarters. on June 27, 1976 Air France Flight 139 was hijacked and invited to Uganda by Amin. The plane landed at Entebbe International Airport in the city of Entebbe. The hijackers agreed to the release of non-Jewish and non-Israeli passengers. At midnight on July 3, 1976, Israeli commandos attacked the airport and freed all but two of the remaining hostages. One was killed by the Israeli forces, while another, 75-year-old Dora Bloch, who had been taken to a hospital before the rescue, was killed under Amin's direct orders by two army officers after the hostage rescue.

By late 1978, Amin had laid the groundwork for his downfall by eliminating many moderate political and military leaders. His actions intensified rivalries within the army, which destroyed the alliance among factions from the northwest who had remained loyal to Amin. Sudanese and Kakwa soldiers then sought to weaken each other's influence, leading to violent disputes and mutinies within commands. To defuse these tensions, Amin deployed the rebellious Suicide Battalion from Masaka and the Simba Battalion from Mbarara to annex an 1,800-square kilometer strip of Tanzanian territory north of the Kagera River, known as the Kagera Salient. Tanzania's president, Julius Nyerere, responded with force, and within two months the Tanzanian People's Defence Force (TPDF) had expelled the Ugandans.

On November 14, 1978, Nyerere ordered the TPDF to invade Uganda and oust Amin. About 1,000 Ugandans who had been in exile in Tanzania and had organized themselves into the Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA) accompanied the TPDF invasion force. The TPDF-UNLA force numbered about 45,000. They launched a two-pronged attack supported by long-range artillery. One group captured the southern town of Masaka near Lake Victoria; the other advanced to the west of Masaka, moving northward through Mbarara and then east to Kampala.

By mid-March 1979, about 2,000 Libyan troops and several hundred Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) fighters had joined in the fight to save Amin's regime; however, this intervention failed to stop the TPDF-UNLA force. Entire garrisons of government troops mutinied or deserted when they realized that Amin would lose his hold on the government.

Finally, on April 10, 1979, Kampala fell. Amin went into exile in Tripoli, Libya, and approximately 8,000 of his soldiers retreated into Sudan and Zaire.

Amin later took refuge in Saudi Arabia, living with his four wives, where he died on August 16, 2003.

British Foreign and Commonwealth Office - British Prime Minister's Cabinet Office Files

681 pages of documents from the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the British Prime Minister's Cabinet Office, dating from 1974 to 1978.

Subjects include:

Treatment of British citizens in Uganda under Idi Amin. Message from Prime Minister Wilson to President Amin concerning the expulsion of Asians and compensation for their property. The defection of Henry Kyemba, who was Uganda's Health Minister. Details of the Foreign Sectary's visit to Uganda and Kenya in July, 1975.

Telegrams concerning the fate of Dora Bloch. Dora Bloch was one of a group of non-Israeli passengers released during the Entebbe hijacking. She was taken to Mulago General Hospital because she had a piece of food stuck in her throat. A British diplomat visited Bloch in the hospital on the Sunday evening after the Israeli raid on Entebbe. Two plain-clothed guards told the British official that she was about to be discharged to the Imperial Hotel in Kampala. When he returned to the hospital an hour later with some food ,he was denied entry. In April 1987, Henry Kyemba, who was Uganda's Health Minister, told Uganda's Human Rights Commission that Dora Bloch had been dragged from her hospital bed and murdered by two army officers close to Idi Amin.

Information from Shimon Peres that Amin was contacting Israel after the Entebbe raid, seeking military help from Israel. A message from Amin to Harold Wilson, regarding Wilson's resignation as British Prime Minister. Memos from a United Kingdom Commissioner sent to Uganda to speak to Amin about the status of Dora Bloch. Information about a June 1976 assassination attempt against Amin. The possibility of Amin attempting to make an unwanted visit to the United Kingdom. Development of "Operation Bottle", the contingency plans if Amin was to enter the United Kingdom. Memos about United Kingdom providing arms to Tanzania after the 1978 Ugandan attack on Tanzania.


126 pages of White House, Department of State, NSC, and CIA files covering Idi Amin and Uganda. The  documents are composed of  memorandums, telegrams, and staff notes dating from January 25, 1971 to October 8, 1976.

Highlights include:

A January 28, 1971 telegram from the U.S. Embassy in the United Kingdom to the Department of State, in which  the U.S. ambassador to Uganda, then in London expressed his belief that Felix Onama would be the new leader of Uganda, that Onama and Ugandan President Idi Amin were sympathetic to the U.K. and U.S. positions, and suggested that Amin lacked the capacity to govern.

A March 6, 1971 telegram from the Department of State to the U.S. Embassy in Uganda, recommends moving toward normal relations in a low key manner, avoiding public statements.

A July 20, 1972 memorandum from Theodore L. Eliot, State Department Executive Secretary, to the President's Assistant for National Security Affairs Henry Kissinger, reporting that Ugandan President Amin's accusations that the United States was spying in Uganda through tourists, the Peace Corps, and CIA personnel. 

A August 25, 1972 telegram from the U.S. embassy in Uganda to the Department of State, in which Ambassador Thomas P. Melady deplores the Asian expulsion activities of Ugandan President Idi Amin, but recommended a strict policy of no public comment.  He suggested offering special immigration to a small number of expelled individuals.

A September 20, 1972 memorandum from the Deputy Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Alexander Haig to President Nixon, reporting that an Interdepartmental Task Force had been updating contingency plans for Uganda; a daily update would be included in the President's morning brief. The memorandum is stamped, "The President Has Seen," and Nixon wrote "good" on it, and also "K - we must have contingencies for every possible nutty thing which might happen between now & election."

A January 2, 1973 telegram from the U.S. embassy in Uganda to the Department of State, in which Ambassador Thomas P. Melady described the Amin regime as racist, erratic, brutal, inept, bellicose, irrational, ridiculous, militaristic, and, above all, xenophobic. He recommended that the United States continue to reduce its presence in Uganda.

A March 9, 1973 memorandum From Secretary of State Rogers to President Nixon, asking Nixon to reconsider his decision not to send Ambassador Melady back to Kampala, arguing that Melady's failure to return could endanger U.S. citizens in Uganda. Rogers highlighted the last sentence of the second paragraph and added a handwritten note that reads: "What I mean is that he is crazy--and we have to recognize it. WRR"

A July 8, 1973 memorandum From the President's Assistant for National Security Affairs Henry Kissinger to President Nixon, informing Nixon that 112 Peace Corps Volunteers traveling by air charter to Zaire were detained in Uganda and held by General Amin.


1,570 pages of electronic telegram text and 1,009 pages of cover and description sheets. Telegrams date from March 1973 to December 1974.

State Department cables from the State Archiving System (SAS), dealing with General Idi Amin and Uganda. These records are popularly known as the "State Department Cables" or the "State Department Telegrams".  These records were part of the State Department Central Foreign Policy Files. The cables consist of telegrams, airgrams, and diplomatic notes. The materials relate to all aspects of American bilateral and multilateral foreign relations and routine administrative and operational activities of the Department of State and its Foreign Service posts, related to subjects involving General Idi Amin and Uganda. The telegrams convey official information about policy proposals and implementation, program activities, or personnel and post operations between the Department of State and posts abroad. After telegrams were transmitted, they were preserved in a central database that contained the text of telegrams. The State Archiving System (SAS) was the official foreign policy database that housed the Central Foreign Policy Files at the Department of State.

Telegram message activity covers: United State diplomatic activity. Ugandan diplomatic activity. Actions and travel of Idi Amin. Ugandan relations with other nations in the region. Embassy personnel concern about the safety of the U.S. embassy as General Amin becomes erratic. Efforts to boost security at the U.S. Embassy and residences of U.S. officials. Visit to Uganda and meetings with Amin by Stokely Carmichael, Roy Innis, the leader of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and members of a CORE delegation. Amin's banning of certain religious groups. Amin's relationship with PLO leaders. The division of property of Indians forced to leave Uganda. Nationalization of foreign owned assets. The detention of American Peace Corps volunteers. Possible murders by Ugandan security forces. Various reports of coup and assassination attempts.

Accounts of numerous telegrams from Amin to President Nixon. The messages range from Amin accusing Nixon of committing mass exterminations in the United States, followed in a few weeks and a few messages by a request by Amin for Nixon to send an airplane to pick him up and take him to New York City. When the volume and content of the messages reached the breaking point, it prompted a State Department official to write that the messages should be responded to with a, "curt explanation  something as follows:  Quote the White House has instructed us to return this message to you as it is unacceptable. In content and tone it is wholly undignified as a communication between chiefs of state of countries which, on our side at least, are attempting to maintain friendly relations. Please return the message to your president with that explanation. Unquote"

Plans of Amin to attend the 1973 United Nations General Assembly at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. Upon hearing about Amin's planned speech a US official was prompted to write, "Prattley told me that Etiang said Amin had prepared  a  two-hour long speech to deliver to the UNGA on Oct. 15  and Etiang commented: 'If you thought  the Hitler telegram was bad. Wait till you hear this speech.' Etiang said he had tried to persuade the general to moderate his language and to cut down the length, as UN would not stand for such a speech. Prattley is rather down on Etiang these days and says he doesn't do as much as he might to try to influence the general but just sits there and listens to Amin's 'idiocies.' Prattley said Etiang 'wants out' and asked him if he could find him a job somewhere with the UN."

Accounts of Amin's television addresses to the people of Uganda. The marshalling of the Ugandan tourism industry. Information about a telegram sent by Amin to Chilean General Pinochet wishing him "Peace, love and  brotherhood." Amin expressed hope that the situation in Chile would return to normal soon. Plans for the evacuation of U.S. personnel from Uganda. Details of tension and border clashes with Tanzania. And more.

The files contains a text transcript of all recognizable text embedded into the graphic image of each page of each document, creating a searchable finding aid.

Text searches can be done across all files.



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