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Part I
The Repression

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


Collaboration of prisoners

In most of the large detention centres, the authorities managed to obtain, through torture, various forms of collaboration by some of the prisoners.  With them they created groups which, like auxiliary bodies, carried out maintenance and administrative tasks in the SDCs, or, to a much lesser degree, participated in tasks more directly concerned with repression. Thus many of them went out to ’cruise’ - which in the jargon of repression meant touring the city with their captors to identify on the street other members of their political group. There have even been cases reported of members of these groups directly taking part in the torture of other prisoners. The authorities of some establishments (e.g. El Vesubio SDC) housed these people in rooms designated as ’broken persons’’ rooms. They were often exhibited to their superiors as trophies.

Although these victims were on the whole treated better than the rest of the inmates of the SDCs, sometimes being allowed to visit their relatives and keep in touch with them by telphone, many of them  are now listed as having disappeared.

Architect Roberto Omar Ramirez (file No. 3524), who was abducted on 27 June 1978 in the Capitol Cinema in Buenos Aires, went through the El Banco, Olimpo and Navy Mechanics School SDCs, which meant that he became very familiar with the structure and operation of these bodies. He explains what the’Council’ or ’Staff’ was:

The abducted person, once admitted into the camp, immediately got a proposal of voluntary cooperation. For the repressive forces this meant the opportunity to save time, since any resistance to torture would get in the way of their plan of operation. Through psychological action based on terror and isolation, prisoners were constantly faced with the dilemma of improved living conditions in the camp in exchange for collaboration. This was a procedure which would generally begin at very subtle levels - cleaning the corridors and toilets - but essentially it led to the prisoners’ gradual loss of ideological reference. When cooperation turned into willingness to carry out the role of interrogating and even torturing other prisoners, the repressors would have had their victory over people who could have been expected to find their own way out of the extreme situation in which they found themselves, at whatever the cost. In general, the military directed this psychological action at prisoners of a certain level of responsibility in a political organization - a method with precedents in Nazi concentration camps and in all similar set-ups since then.

Discipline in the El Banco and Olimpo camps, where operational requirements were taken care of by the prisoners themselves who were assigned to service and/or intelligence tasks, depended on differentiation. All those prisoners who were responsible for some task on a regular basis (cleaning, repairs, etc.) constituted a group called the ’Council’. This group comprised all those prisoners with a special skill (photography, drawing, mechanics, electronics, etc.) or who could carry out a task (washing, cooking, ironing, sewing, car-washing, etc.). The ’Council’ was also made up of prisoners who were members of the ’camp intelligence’...

The composition of the ’Council’ would change after each transfer, if some prisoner who was a member left the camp. The only stable ones were the collaborators belonging to ’camp intelligence’ and those working as doctors or forging documents. The other roles would be replaced several times ...

When prisoners reached the position of carrying out certain tasks, their meals and gradually their sleeping arrangements would improve considerably, with a progressive removal of the hood ...

Freedom would be granted in stages. First there would be a period of communication by telephone, later the prisoner would be taken to see his family, accompanied by camp personnel. After a time, the prisoner would go ’on leave’ to join his family. At some stage, without prior notice, he would be conditionally released. Control consisted of weekly reports back at first, then fortnightly and finally monthly…

Some ex-prisoners were authorized, after more than a year of this regime of freedom, to live abroad, in countries previously approved by the military command. There were some prisoners who spent more than three years in the condition of ’hostage’ of the camp. I spent two years before deciding to run the risk of arranging my exile.

So far we have presented a sketch of the main characteristics of the secret detention centres found during our Commission’s investigations.

In the following pages there is a detailed description of some of these establishments.

Likewise, we report on procedures carried out by the Commission on Disappeared People on the sites of these centres, with the participation of ex-prisoners who identified the installations, pointing out modifications which have been made.

Others were dismantled or demolished prior to the 1979 visit by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the OAS.

All we know to date about many of them are fragmentary references, possibly because they were only used for very brief periods, which made pinpointing their location difficult.

Their existence resolves the greatest question about the forced disappearance of persons in recent years: this was where they had been. These centres had people running them; were part of operational areas; detailed lists were drawn up which recorded admissions, transfers, and departures of prisoners.

Here we have the physical proof of the disappearances, and, consequently, the possibility of finding an answer to the fate of those who one day found themselves engulfed in a horror which still casts its shadow over us today.




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