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Part I
The Repression

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


'Walling Up'

The abducted person would arrive hooded - ’walled up’ - and would remain so throughout his stay. The purpose of this was to make him lose his spatial awareness, thus depriving him not only of the world outside the pozo, but also of everything immediately beyond his own body.

The victim might be assaulted at any time without the slightest chance of defending himself. He had to learn a new code of signals, sounds and smells in order to guess whether he was in danger or if the situation had eased. That was one of the heaviest burdens to endure, according to a number of testimonies received.

The psychological torture of the ’hood’ was as bad or worse than the physical, although the two cannot be compared since whereas the latter attempts to reach the limits of pain, the hood causes despair, anxiety and madness ...

With the hood on, I became fully aware of my complete lack of contact with the outside world. There was nothing to protect you, you were completely alone. That feeling of vulnerability, isolation and fear is very difficult to describe. The mere inability to see gradually undermines your morale, diminishing your resistance ...

The ’hood’ became unbearable, so much so that one Wednesday, transfer day, I shouted for them to have me transferred: ’Me ... me ... 571’. The hood had achieved its aim, I was no longer Lisandro Raúl Cubas, I was a number. (File No. 6974)

To be ’transferred’ was considered synonymous with death. No less horrifying are the recollections of Liliana Callizo, who in page 8 of her testimony (file No. 4413), states:

It’s very difficult to tell of the terror of the minutes, hours, days, months, years spent there ...

At first the prisoner has no idea what his surroundings were like. Some of us imagined it to be round; others, as a kind of football stadium, with the guards circling over our heads.

We didn’t know which way up we were, which way our heads and feet were pointing. I remember grabbing hold of the mattress with all my strength, so that I wouldn’t fall, although I knew that it was on the floor.

We would hear noises, footsteps, the sound of guns, and when they opened the grille we would prepare to face our execution. Military boots continued to circle around us.

Reconstruction of the SDCs was based on hundreds of testimonies given by released people who had spent differing lengths of time as disappeared prisoners. The astonishing similarity between plans sketched by the deponents in their files and the definitive ones produced under the direction of architects and technical teams who took part in the inspections and surveys carried out by the Commission can be explained by the necessary sharpening of the other senses and by a whole set of patterns meticulously stored in the memory, as a means of clinging to reality and life. The change of guard, the noise of planes and trains, and usual torturing times were an essential part of these ’patterns’.

As to space, corporeal’ memory was a determining factor: how many steps they had to take before turning to go to the toilet; the sound, the speed and the turnings taken by the car they were being driven in when entering or leaving the SDCs, etc. In some cases the abductors, who were aware of these techniques, managed to disturb and even totally confuse memory by means of various tricks. Sometimes they would take unnecessary turnings in the car, The technique of taking the prisoners hooded to the toilet, in single file and constantly hitting them, made identification of the place very difficult. The same happened with the constant disruption of sleep patterns. Nevertheless, many of the prisoners still managed to piece together the jigsaw, in some cases from ordinary sounds such as the dripping of a water tank, the cleaning of a cesspit, the murmur of people eating, birdsong, or boats banging against a pier.

On many of the Inspections of the SDCs carried out by the Commission, witnesses would put on a scarf or bandage, or simply shut their eyes tight, in order to relive that time of terror and be able to remember the ordeal in detail. ’Walling up’ tended to cause damage to the eyes, says Enrique Núñez (file No. 4846):

…They put a dirty blindfold on me, very tightly, which pressed on my eyes and cut my circulation. It seriously damaged my eyesight, leaving me blind for more than thirty days after I was released from the Guerrero Centre, Jujuy ...

The commonest physical damage this form of torture produced was conjunctivitis. Another, less common, was the infestation of the conjunctiva by maggots. The deponent of file No. 2819 states:

In Campo de Mayo, where I was taken on 28 April 1977, the treatment consisted of keeping the prisoner hooded throughout his stay, sitting, without talking or moving, in large rooms which had previously been used as stables. Perhaps this phrase does not express clearly enough what that actually meant, because you might think that when I say, ‘sitting, hooded, all the time’, it is justa figure of speech. But that is not the case: we prisoners were made to sit on the floor with nothing to lean against from the moment we got up at six in the morning until eight in the evening when we went to bed. We spent fourteen hours a day in that position.  And when I say ‘without talking or moving’, I mean exactly that. We couldn’t utter a word, or even turn our heads. On one occasion, a companion  ceased to be included on the interrogators’ list and was forgotten.  Six months went by, and they only realized what had happened because one of the guards thought it strange that the prisoner was never wanted for anything and was always in the same condition, without being ’transferred’. He told the interrogators, who decided to ’transfer’ him that week, as he was no longer of any interest to them. This man had been sitting there, hooded, without speaking or moving, for six months, awaiting death. We would sit like this, padlocked to a chain which could be either individual or collective. The individual type was a kind of shackle put on the feet; the collective type consisted of one chain about 30 metres long, long enough to be attached at either end to opposite walls in the block. Prisoners were chained to it every metre and a half, as circumstances required, so that they were all linked together, This system was permanent.

Another example is provided by the testimony of Enrique Corteletti (file No. 3523), who was kept in the Navy Mechanics School after his abduction on 22 November 1976:

They put  a sort of shackle on my ankles and I was handcuffed the whole time. When they took me to the second floor, after being put through the ’machine’ for a while, I could see that there were many people there. They put me between two not very high partitions. They laid me down on a kind of mattress. Because I was shackled, my right foot became infected, so they changed the shackle for another round my left foot, attached at the other end to a cannon ball ...


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