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Part I
The Repression

Nunca Más (Never Again) - Report of Conadep  - 1984


Sometimes the victims were not only taken to the limits of endurance, but did not even understand what they were being asked - as could happen to anyone who was totally unfamiliar with the jargon used by the torturers. Antonio Horacio Mifio Retarnozo (file No. 3721), was abducted from his workplace in Buenos Aires on 23 August 1976. It was the usual sequence of events. First they took him to Police Station No. 33. Then he tells us:

In the station, things began normally. I was first questioned about my full name, nom de guerre (I didn’t know what that was), my rank in the orga (again, I didn’t know what they were talking about) and then I was offered a passport, flight ticket and a thousand dollars to leave the country. Not knowing what they were asking me about and refusing to reply, the dialogue came to an end and ‘persuasion’ began. I was blindfolded and the beatings started.

Three or four people surrounded me and blows and kicks started raining down all over my body. When I remained firm in my refusal, they resorted to sticks and rubber truncheons. They repeated the sequence of questioning followed by blows until they lost patience and, in order to achieve better results, took me, wrapped in something thick, which could well have been a carpet, to the Federal Security Headquarters. They put me on the floor in the back of a police car. Two or three people trod on me so that I wouldn’t move.

At the headquarters I was taken straight to the parilla (grill). That is, I was tied to the metal frame of a bed, electrodes were attached to my hands and feet, and they ran an electric prod all over me, with particular savagery and intensity on the genitals.

Despite the bonds, when on the ’grill’ one jumps, twists, moves about and tries to avoid contact with the burning, cutting iron bars. The electric prod was handled like a scalpel and the ’specialist’ would be guided by a doctor who would tell him if I could take any more. After a seemingly endless session they untied me and resumed their questioning.

They would plague me with questions about the cap of the mir. I hadn’t the faintest idea what cap of the mir could be. I couldn’t understand any of their jargon. And immediately I was on the ’grill’ once again, and the questioning-electric prod-grill sessions recommenced. They would repeat the same questions, changing the order and wording to obtain answers and find contradictions.

It was only a year-later that I learned from another prisoner that cap of the mir referred to the capture of the 29th Rural Infantry Regiment, which occurred on 5 October 1975 in Formosa, a town I had lived in all that year.

The interrogation sessions later became shorter, but the electric prod was more intense, savagely seeking out the sphincters. The worst was having electrodes on the teeth - it felt as if a thunderbolt was blowing your head to pieces - and a narrow string of beads, which they put in my mouth and which were very difficult to swallow because they induced retching and vomiting, thus intensifying the ordeal, until finally they forced one to swallow them. Each bead was an electrode and when they worked it seemed like a thousand crystals were shattering, splintering inside one and moving through the body, cutting everywhere. They were so excruciating that one couldn’t even scream or groan or move. They produced convulsions which, if one hadn’t been tied down, would have forced one into a foetal position. This left one shaking for several hours with all one’s insides one huge wound and an unbearable thirst, but the fear of more convulsions was stronger, so for several days one didn’t eat or drink, in spite of their trying to force one to do so.

Every day they invented new things as collective punishment. Once it was really horrific. A person calling himself ’Lieutenant’ came and said that he was giving us military training, which wasn’t true - we were tightly blindfolded and couldn’t talk. There were nearly always guards there and they were always coming and going, bringing people in and taking them away.

They took us to what I imagine was a large room; they surrounded us and, began to hit us all over, but especially on the elbows and knees; we would crash into each other, blows were coming at us from all sides, we would trip and fall. Then, when we were completely prostrate on the floor, they started throwing ice-cold water over us and with electric prods they would force us to our feet and take us back to the place we had come from. They left us all together, shaking, wet, shivering, huddling together for warmth.

We could hear them playing cards, their voices raised to drown out the constant screams of somebody being tortured. When they finished the game they would amuse themselves by illtreating us.

When they took us from the ’lion’s cage’, to the questioning-torture room, we would have to climb three steps and go down two, or vice versa, go up two and down three, and they would make us turn round so as to disorientate us.

The night of Wednesday 1 September was transfer night for some, and with it came additional fear and insecurity, for in those days it was well known that they would kill prisoners during the transfers, inventing ’shoot outs’.

We were taken to a transit camp, for ’softening up’ before being disposed of. There the torture was such that we had no name or surname but a number. Mine was number 11 - It was like a cellar, there were fifteen of us; I recognized Puértolas’s voice by its high-pitched intonation, which still haunts me.

The punishment was brutal. On Thursday they took me for two sessions, and on Friday I received the most horrific beating I’ve ever had. There was somebody on the ’grill’; it sounded like Puértolas, although it was very difficult to recognize his voice, we were in such a sorry state. They put me on the bed on top of him and when they applied the electric prod to me, he would jump too. My feet were close to a wall and if I touched or dirtied it, or moved at all, they would beat me on the legs.

Following continuous ill-treatment and death threats, Miño Retamozo was taken to the 29th Rural Infantry Regiment.

I arrived With a star billing, since in their view I was the one who had planned the attack on the regiment.

They began to work on me early on Monday, and continued morning, noon and night. For the first few days, in between sessions, I was tied naked to a bed, with a guard beside me and without food. At night I would be taken to a corridor and thrown down alongside the other prisoners, who didn’t know what to do, wanting to move away from me through fear of being mistaken for me and taken away in my place. At night the ’female voice’ would arrive, a well-known officer of the Gendarmeria (Armed border police used in rural areas) who spoke in falsetto. The first thing he would do was to stroke one’s testicles in anticipation of the pleasure of his task.

This went on for three weeks. They suffocated me with plastic bags or by putting my head under water. They tore me apart with the ’helmet of death’ (a horrendous device full of electrodes placed over the head), which doesn’t even allow you to say no. Your body is racked with screams.

One night they amused themselves with a boy from Las Palmas (Chaco province) and myself. The soldiers were whiling away the time listening to the radio; the local team Patria and Rosario Central were playing football. Throughout the match they used the helmet on the boy, which left him crazy for about two weeks afterwards. Then it was my turn. During the interrogation sessions there was always someone who would smash the joints of one’s hands and feet with a piece of wood.

Regarding his subsequent transfer to Formosa, Miño Retarnozo, adds:

As Formosa was a town with a population of about 100,000, most of those there knew the identity of the torturers, such as Sergeant or Top Sergeant Eduardo Steinberg, Second Commander Domato, and the man known as ’Death with a female voice’, also Second Commander of the Gendarmería.

When the guards were a little more,lenient, we would ask for a bucket of water so we could wash. I nearly died the first time I had a bath. When I took off my blindfold I could hardly recognize myself. I was black with marks, as if I’d been rolling in barbed wire, covered in burns from cigarettes and the electric scalpel; I was the picture of misfortune. The ’electric scalpel’ cuts, burns and cauterizes. They hardly used it on me, compared with Velázquez Ibarra and other prisoners. I still have scars from it on my back. Electrodes or scalpel? As my back was raw, my shirt would stick to it. With the heat and dirt it had started to fester and I hadn’t noticed. My companions, who took such care of me, called a soldier from the infirmary to disinfect the wound.

One day I finally understood the reason for my misfortunes, if one can use the word in these cases. At break time, someone from the cell opposite told me that Marta Infran had talked. They had caught her and her husband. First they tortured her husband until he was completely broken, and then killed him. Then they started on her. At some stage she cracked, tried to save herself, or was driven to the edge of insanity and began to invent the most farfetched things. She sent over fifty people to prison. She said that I had planned the attack on the regiment, that I was active in the ’Montoneros’ organization and that they had offered me logistic backing.

I had met Marta Infran in 1975, when she was nineteen and working in a law court. We both attended the same course, in the first year of Forestry Technology, and we were casual acquaintances.

I was released on 6 June 1977.

In this instance, a chance acquaintance, a denunciation made in a state of delirium during the torture inflicted on Marta Infran, was enough for Miño Retamozo to suffer the ordeal described.

Equally significant is the testimony of Oscar Alberto Paillalef (file No. 6956) of General Roca (Río Negro province).

Señor Paillalef was summoned by the local police to report to the headquarters of the 6th Brigade in Neuquén. As he had a company car they let him drive home in it. He was told to return because he would have to be questioned by Major Reinhold of Intelligence. He went back on the 19th of the same month.

I was taken to a place which apparently was next door to the building I had been in. I was put on another bed there. Two people were facing me, one asked questions and the other supposedly acted as his assistant. They continued to hit me as I was being questioned, and they attached what they called ’the wires’, which was the electric prod, to me, on the inside of my arms and then under the blindfold, on my temples. After a long while I was taken back to where I’d been originally.

This treatment continued. There were guards who would hit and kick me and tighten the handcuffs until they cut my wrists, The interrogation sessions continued until the 29th, roughly every other day. Several times they played a macabre game with me: they would put the barrel of a gun to my head and pull the trigger, but it didn’t go off. At night when it was quieter I could hear lorries passing fairly close by, which led me to suppose that we were very near Highway 22 and, in my opinion, we were in the Battalion barracks.

Every time they took me for an interrogation session, in addition to questioning, I would be taken to and from that room and beaten up again. One night, threatening to finish me off, they put cigarette ash under my blindfold so that, they said, ’Your eyes will rot.’

In some cases, such as that of José Antonio Giménez (file No.3035), aged fifty-three, living in Centenario, Neuquén, arrested on 10 January 1977 outside his house, they used a slight variation:

... I was blindfolded, and had cotton wool over my eyes so that I wouldn’t see anything, which didn’t stop the blindfold from slipping at times and letting me see that some of the guards were wearing army boots. What’s more, on one occasion when they tried to get me to sign a statement - which I did not - they removed my blindfold and I saw that the person speaking to me, a young man, was dressed in military uniform and wore a gas mask which entirely covered his face.

I was subjected to torture, which consisted in being hung by the arms from a wall behind me with my legs hanging from another wall, that is, with my body suspended in the air. They had attached electrodes to my temples, under the blindfold, and applied current through those electrodes. This was carried out at another centre, built of zinc sheets and a wooden frame, like shelters found in railway stations. These sessions were repeated several times without my being able to say exactly how often, interspersed with interrogation sessions limited to ordering me to ’sing’, that is, to tell what I knew, though they did not ask me any specific questions about any event, circumstance, place or date, nor regarding any person in particular. When they finally demanded that I write in my own words a description of my actions during the period immediately before my abduction, I started to do so, but was interrupted before I could sign it, evidently because it was no use to them.

As he was having dinner on 20 January 1976, Santos Aurelio Chaparro was abducted from his house in Ingenio la Florida, Tucumán province. The kidnappers were in three cars. Some were in military uniform, others were dressed in civilian clothes. He recognized the place they took him to as the Tucumán Police Headquarters. He says they kept him in a room with other prisoners, and declares (file No. 5522):

... That on the second day of being illegally held in those conditions, two people took him to a smaller room where they stripped him and tied him to a bed known as the ’grill’. They attached wires to his head and began to torture him with electric current. They applied the electric prod all over his body, with preference for the genital and pectoral areas, and on the head, mouth, gums, etc. He was tortured for about two hours, then they took him away to another room in the same building, where a group of people subjected him to a brutal beating. This continued for several hours, until he lost consciousness. He was then taken to the room where he had first been held. This form of torture was carried out every day for twenty days, (File No. 5522.)

Señor Chaparro was taken to a ’recuperation’ camp to recover from his injuries. After twenty-five days he returned to Police Headquarters and was tortured to a lesser degree for five days. They promised to release him but cancelled the order as soon as they had signed it, This took place in the School of Physical Education on 2 4 March 1976. He goes on:

After this period he was again taken to a little room and tortured On this occasion, he was made to drink large amounts of water whilst being tortured with the electric prod. They put a bottle to his mouth, telling him they would make him drink all the water in the River Salí. He drank two bottles of water. He was repeatedly tortured with the electric prod. After this he was brutally beaten, passing out again, bathed in blood. Water was oozing out of different body orifices and they were apparently scared by his condition, since after this they tried to rehabilitate him. He remained here for about twenty days and then they transferred him to another place which he cannot identify precisely.

There he was tortured on a table with the electric prod. He was also subjected to the submarino, in a 200-litre tub. While he was in it, they banged on the sides of the tub and applied electricity.

He was told he was going to be killed. They took him out and subjected him to a brutal session of torture with the electric prod, and after this he was made to stand against a wall. An officer of the Gendarmería (whom he had seen wearing a military cap) gave him a karate kick in the back, following which he says he passed out.

He was subsequently brutally beaten, with sticks. He thinks they cracked his sternum and broke bones in his fingers. The blows caused his chains to break and he lost consciousness. He was left with permanent disabilities, such as a buzzing in the left ear, no feeling in his toes, etc.

He was then transferred to La Plata Prison, being released on probation on 23 March 1982.

We will omit the details of the arrest in Santa Fé province of Orlando Luis Stirnemann, of Río Gallegos (file No. 4337), and only mention what one of his kidnappers said. At the time of the arrest, when asked why the victim wasn’t being hooded, he replied:

’It’s not necessary and’he knows it. He’s ”got his ticket”.’

After being held for a fortnight in that detention centre, I was transferred to another one, presumably in the same army region. 

They would employ torture to interrogate prisoners, including the electric prod, for which they used a high-voltage device which, when applied, would cause the tongue to contract, so that it was impossible for the prisoner to scream. Another method was to put a cat inside the clothes of the person being interrogated, then to give it electric shocks so that it would react violently and injure the prisoner.

In the testimony of Enrique Rodríguez Larreta (file No. 2539) we find new ways of applying torture. We will include only the essential paragraphs of his statement:

The following night it was my turn to be taken to the top floor, where I was interrogated under torture, as were all the men and women there. I was stripped naked and was hung by the wrists with my arms behind me some 20 or 30 centimetres from the ground.

At the same time they put so me kind of underpants on me,  which had several electrical terminals in them. When they were connected, the victim received electric current in several places at once. This device, which they called the ’machine’, was switched on during questioning, while they hurled threats and abuse at me, hitting me in the most sensitive parts.

The ground below where the prisoners were suspended was very wet and covered in coarse salt crystals, with the aim of intensifying the torture should the person manage to rest his feet on the floor.

Several of the people held there with me slipped from their bonds and knocked themselves against the floor, getting seriously hurt. I especially remember the case of somebody whom I later knew to be Edelweiss Zahn de Andrés, who suffered deep cuts about the head and ankles which later became infected.

Antonio Cruz, Argentine, married, resident in Buenos Aires, was a member of the Gendarmería between 31 December 1972 (when he joined up, according to Confidential Bulletin 1460, paragraphs 3-6) and 31 December 1977 when he left, according to the JMM (Joint Military Message - SD5289/77).

We will transcribe the most important parts of his testimony (file No. 4676):

Here I must refer to the PAC (Prisoner Assessment Centre) known as La Escuelita. It was located in Famaillá, about two or three blocks away from the railway to San Miguel de Tucumán.

At the time of our arrival, this was the ’dogs of war’ section.

I will proceed to describe the interrogation room. This was in the last classroom in the school, and in it there was a military-type iron bed, a table and photographs of the prisoners. ... There was also a battery-operated field telephone which would generate an electric current when the handle was turned. The voltage produced depended on the speed at which it was turned. The interrogators had a rubber truncheon similar to that used by the Federal Police, with which they would beat the prisoners to ’soften them up’ as soon as they were brought in.

Cruz then refers to the fate which befell a prisoner placed in his charge:

The next day the interrogation of this person began. First he was tied down to a bed - be couldn’t be handcuffed because there weren’t any handcuffs large enough to fit his wrists. He was beaten with a rubber truncheon but, seeing that they were not getting any results, they began using the telephone wire on him, One of the wires was tied to the foot of the bed and they applied the other to the most sensitive parts of his body, and to his back and chest. As they still couldn’t make him talk they started hitting him again, until at one point the prisoner asked to go to the toilet, which request was granted. I was put in charge of guarding him personally, which terrified me. I noticed then that he was passing blood, that is, he seemed to have sustained serious internal injuries. When I handed him back to the interrogators I mentioned this, but they dismissed it. Before the torturers went off that night, they left him tied to a pillar in the open air with strict orders not to feed him and to give him only water to drink. He died hanging there in the early hours of the morning. He had been so badly beaten that he had been unable to withstand the punishment. When they came back to question him the interrogators were told what had happened, and they regretted having been unable to obtain any precise information.

Women were interrogated in the same manner. They were stripped naked, laid down on the bed, and the torture session would begin. With women, they would insert the wire in the vagina and then apply it to the breasts, which caused great pain. Many of them would menstruate in mid-torture. With them they only used the telephone, no other device.

On one occasion they brought in a wounded prisoner. One day, out of curiosity, I went up to his window, since I was alone and you could see in through the gap. As I got closer, I saw his head had been split open, and when I looked at his hands I noticed that they were full of maggots. This turned my stomach because the poor bloke was becoming infested with maggots.

With the testimony of Carlos Hugo Basso (file No. 7725), Argentine (currently in exile), we return to the now notorious La Perla and La Ribera camps. Basso was abducted on 10 November 1976 in the Alto Alberti district of the town of Córdoba. Following the usual procedure, with blows and a journey on the floor of a car under his captors’ feet, they arrived at the secret detention centre.

They opened a door which, from the noise it made, was probably metal. One of those taking me warned me that I was shortly to meet the ’Priest’, who would be in charge of ’taking my confession’. This person they called ’Priest’ must have been quite big since as soon as I went in he grabbed me by the sides and lifted me in the air ...

Afterwards they beat me with sticks and a hammer which they used to smash my fingers whenever my hands were on the floor. They undressed me and tied my hands and feet to a bed-frame they called a ’grill’. For what must have been about an hour they applied electric current to the most sensitive parts of my body: genitals, hips, knees, neck, gums. ... For the neck and gums they used a tiny instrument with several points, directly connected to the mains supply of 220 volts. I could see under my blindfold that every time a discharge was produced, the light of a small bulb over the ’grill’ dimmed. During this time I heard one of the torturers being addressed as ’Gringo’. Afterwards somebody applied a stethoscope to my chest and they untied me. I found I couldn’t walk, but they dragged me 20 or 30 metres to a mattress in a large room, against a wall, where I remained until the following day.

Teresa Celia Meschiati was abducted in the town of Córdoba on 25 September 1976 and taken to the La Perla centre (file No. 4279). She tells us:

Immediately after my arrival at La Perla I was taken to the torture room or ’intensive therapy’ room. They stripped me and tied my feet and hands with ropes to the bars of a bed, so that I was hanging from them. They attached a wire to one of the toes of my right foot. Torture was applied gradually, by means of electric prods of two different intensities: one of 125 volts which caused involuntary muscle movements and pain all over my body. They applied this to my face, eyes, mouth, arms, vagina, and anus; and another of 220 volts called la margarita (the daisy), which left deep ulcerations which I still have and which caused a violent contraction, as ” all my limbs were being torn off at once, especially in the kidneys, legs, groin and sides of the body. They also put a wet rag on my chest to increase the intensity of the shock.

I tried to kill myself by drinking the foul water in the tub which was meant for another kind of torture called submarino, but I did not succeed.

The gradually increasing intensity of the electric prod was matched by the sadism of my torturers. There were five of them, whose names were: Guillermo Barreiro, Luis Manzanelli, José López, Jorge Romero, and Fermín de los Santos.

Nélson Eduardo Dean, Uruguayan, married, abducted at 10 p.m. in the Almagro district of Buenos Aires on 13 July 1976 (file No. 7412), says in the essential parts of his testimony:

Once there, we were put in various rooms. With my wrists handcuffed behind my back, eyes blindfolded, and bleeding profusely, a new wave of blows began. After half an hour I was taken to a room on the top floor. There they stripped off all my clothes, handcuffed my wrists behind my back again and began to throw buckets of water over me. Next they put wires around my waist, thorax and ankles. They tied a rope or chain to the handcuffs and pulled my arms up as high as they could without dislocating them. I was in that position, literally hanging at a distance of about 30 centimetres from the floor, for a Period of time which is not possible to determine in hours, only in terms of pain. Because of the great suffering induced by this form of torture, one loses all track of formal time.

Later the torturers slackened the rope some 20 centimetres, enough to enable me to touch the ground with some difficulty and rest my arms a little - actually, any notion of rest was illusory, since when I tried to touch the floor and succeeded I started to receive electric shocks. It’s really very difficult to express in words all the agony these shocks produce. I think it’s only possible to offer a tragic caricture of what it was like.  Two things might prove useful as examples and give some idea; some actual physical events and some sensations. As to the physical effects, I feel there are two which will show you the extent of the torture:

(a) After torture, the soles of the feet were burnt and layers of hard skin would form, which peeled off later. Obviously the skin was burnt from the electric shocks.

(b) During the application of electricity, one would lose all control over one’s senses, such torture provoking permanent vomiting, almost constant defecation, etc.

(c) As for sensations, electricity begins to rise up the body. All the parts with wires attached to them feet as though they are being torn from the body, Thus, at first, it’s the feet which feel as though they are being torn off, then the legs, testicles, thorax, etc.

These torture sessions went on for a period of five days, increasing in Intensity. During the last few days they repeated all the above methods and, in addition, inserted wires into my anus, testicles and penis. These practices were carried out in a diabolical setting; the torturers, some drinking, others laughing, hitting and insulting, tried to extract from me the names of Uruguayans living in Argentina who opposed the current regime governing my country.

I noticed that officers of the Uruguayan Army participated directly in these interrogation and torture sessions. Some said they belonged to a group called OCOA (Anti-subversive Operation Coordinating Organization).




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