Thirty years after the House Committee on Foreign Affairs published its report on The Assassination of Representative Leo J. Ryan and the Jonestown, Guyana Tragedy, the classified portions of the investigation have been turned over to the National Archives for review and potential release.
The public portion of the report, a 782-page document, was issued during a one-day committee hearing on May 15, 1979, less than six months following the deaths in Jonestown. The report begins with 37 pages of analysis and recommendations, with the balance of the document principally consisting of previously-published materials – press coverage of Jonestown, the State Department’s early list with the names of the Jonestown dead, etc. – as well as exchanges of congressional correspondence authorizing the investigation, and discussions of the Freedom of Information Act and Privacy Act, including the effects of those laws on federal agencies’ ability to act before the tragedy.
Documents withheld from disclosure in 1979 – as described in the table of contents – included “Tactics [of] Jim Jones and the People’s Temple,” “Motivations [of] Jim Jones and the People’s Temple,” “Awareness of danger, predicting the degree of violence,” “U.S. Customs Service Investigation,” and “Social Security and foster children.”
A group of religious studies scholars and historians petitioned Congress for release of the documents on the 20-year anniversary of the report in 1999. Following up on that petition effort a few months later, the editors of the jonestown report learned that the committee had placed a 30-year embargo upon the materials.
That embargo expired this past May.
The committee has since turned over the documents to the National Archives for review and eventual release.
The documents cannot be requested under the Freedom of Information Act since they are still considered congressional records, and Congress exempted itself from FOIA provisions when it passed the legislation in 1967.