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Part I
The Repression

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



The SDCs were above all torture centres, with ’specialized’ personnel and rooms adapted for such ends, euphemistically called ,operating theatres’, and a whole range of instruments used in the various torture techniques. All this is analysed in detail in the relevant chapter, but some reference is necessary here insofar as this terrible experience was part of daily life in the SDCs.

The purpose of the first torture sessions was to ’soften up’ newly-arrived prisoners, and these were carried out by any of the personnel. Once it had been established that the prisoner had some information of interest to offer, sessions run by special interrogators began. In other words, there wasn’t even a prior assessment made as to whether the person they were going to kidnap really knew anything of any interest to his captors.

Because of these indiscriminate methods, not only members of armed groups but also their relatives, friends, colleagues at work or school, political party activists, priests and laymen committed to the problems of the poor, student activists, trade unionists, neighbourhood leaders and - in a remarkably high number of cases - people with no kind of trade union or political activity at all, were all rounded up and tortured. It was enough to appear in somebody’s address book to instantly become a target for the notorious ’task forces’.

Thus it can be understood how many of those tortured would declare anybody guilty as long as their ordeal might end. According to information supplied by a member of Task Force 2 (file No. 7170), after 1977 there was no longer any need to carry out intelligence activity, as it simply became a matter of arresting those people named by the prisoners themselves in the torture sessions. That is why there are innumerable cases like that of Jorge Berstrin (file No. 2803) who reports:

On 1 March 1977 I was at the house of a workmate, in the town of General Roca, Río Negro, when a group of armed men burst in, handcuffing both of us, hooding us and taking us in several cars to a detention centre near the town of Neuquén. I later found out why I had been arrested: the niece of the head of personnel in the factory where I worked, who lived in Bahia Blanca, had visited Roca and had been in the apartment from which we were abducted, as she had been introduced at that time to the owner, my colleague. The woman from Bahia Blanca, who had this apartment in her address book, was arrested in that town, turning up shortly after being ’killed in a shoot-out’. A few days after her arrest they arrested both of us, me because I happened to be there. When they realized their mistake, they released us, first me and five days later my colleague ...

In such a demented framework of persecution, to have too common a surname brought with it the possibility of falling prey to this kind of infamously arbitrary hunt.
Raúl Romero (file No. 2590) reported:

... on 21 SeDtember 1977 at 19.30 hours he was arrested with his wife in his home ...

He describes the terrible conditions in which both were held in the SDC, later identified by him as the Pozo de Quilmes, and the torture that went on there. He was released on 4 October that year when his captors realized that he wasn’t Victor Hugo Romero, a previous inhabitant of the deponent’s house who unfortunately had the same surname.

Apart from ’softening up’ and the extraction of information, prisoners in the SDCs were likely to suffer torture for entirely arbitrary reasons. Carlos Enrique Ghezan (file No. 4151) reports: 

We would be beaten up and tortured for the slightest transgression of certain rules of the detention camp. I saw this on numerous occasions. Any event related to repression outside the pozo, the death of a soldier, a gun battle, politically significant acts, events occurring in other parts of the world such as the advances of theSandinista revolution, constituted a motive or pretext for intensifying the repression...

Ghezan was held in El Banco and Olimpo.

Other testimonies outline the various reasons given for the cruelty. These included the mere fact of being held, for refusing to cooperate as expected, or events completely unrelated to the prisoner.

In file No. 4152, Susana Leonor Caride tells us that she was arrested-abducted at 11 p.m. on 2 6 July 1978 from her house, 551 Calle Fragata Presidente Sarmiento, Buenos Aires. They set up a simulated execution. They made her listen to a tape with children’s voices telling her that her mother and children were there:

... if I didn’t tell them where Dr Guillermo Díaz Lestrem lived, they were going to torture my daughter, then ten years old, saying that she was ’Just right for the ”machine ”’ ...

At about midday I gave them Dr Lestrem’s telephone number, but when they called he had already gone, so they beat me up again, questioning me about my activities and the names of people I didn’t know ...

When I arrived they left me dumped in a yard and after a while they took me to the ’machine’, a name given to the electric prod, where they continued to torture me, I don’t recall for how long since I was in such a sorry condition. Once again they threw me down in the yard. leaving me there for a while until they took me to a small room, where a torturer known as ’Julián the Turk’ began to hit and beat me with chains and then with a whip, swearing and shouting at me. Then they dumped me back in the yard again.

I could feel my whole body stinging and hurting, made worse by the salt water they threw over me ...

I don’t know for how long I lay there: at some point I heard someone ask about the events which had occurred in the Planning Division of the Federal Police, where a bomb had exploded, while someone else replied that ’it had been a political act’. On hearing this, ’Julián the Turk’ began to shout and swear at us and ’chain’ us all. The scene was Dantesque, since we were handcuffed and blindfolded and had no idea where the blows were coming from. We fell over each other, screaming with pain and horror. I could tell that other people were also hitting and kicking us: they pulled us up by the hair when we fell down.When everything had calmed down we could hear moans and panting. After a while, I again had salt water thrown over my body, which was burnt and raw all over, hearing ’Julián’ say that they had better take me away, or he would kill me.

A different external circumstance, no longer a terrorist attack but the instigation of judicial proceedings, would bring with it reprisals:

Around the end of July or the beginning of August, as I had completely lost track of time, I was dragged out of my cell and taken to the operating theatre’. where they swore at me and told me that Dr Diaz Lestrem had presented a writ of habeas corpus for me ...

They beat me up and, when they were going to take me to the ‘machine’, one of them hit me so hard in the ribs that I couldn’t breathe, so they left me alone. (Result: two cracked ribs.) .



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