(Never Again) - Report of Conadep
Secret Air Force detention centres
This secret detention Centre was in operation from mid-1976 until December 1977. It Was demolished shortly afterwards, but according to the witnesses' accounts and other information obtained by the Commission on Disappeared People, it was possible to establish that it had been installed in an open space between Paseo Colón and Calles San Juan, Cochabamba and Azopardo. Those quartered in the above Centre arrived tightly blindfolded in private cars. On arrival they were taken from the cars and violently shifted - virtually thrown - down a narrow staircase to an almost unventilated place underground.
This is what emerges from the evidence of Carlos Pachecho (file No. 423), Pedro Miguel Antonio Vanrell (file No. 1132), Daniel Eduardo Fernández (file No. 1310), José Angel Ulivarri (file No. 2515) and others. Most of them agree that a gate was opened to admit them. All of them, without exception, were stripped - men, women, the young, the old - and inspected while being pushed around and maltreated. All their personal effects were removed and never returned. 'From now on your name is K35, and as far as anyone outside is concerned you have disappeared ...' Miguel D'Agostino recounts.
From there they were taken to the 'operating theatre', or torture chamber, and fear was transformed into terror and despair.
'During the interrogation I could hear the screams of my brother and his fiancée. I could distinguish their voices perfectly.' (Nora Strejilevich, file No. 2535.)
Once they had been briefly held for the first session of 'softening up' some would be almost dragged to the 'sick bay' and then to the 'lion's cage' or directly to the 'tubes'. Chains locked with padlocks were fastened around their ankles and it was essential to remember the combination number, otherwise when they were taken to the bathroom the prisoners ran the risk that the correct keys would not be found to unlock them. What with the blindfold that virtually blocked out their vision, the fetters on their feet, their faces and any exposed parts of their anatomies covered with bruises, contusions and open wounds - not to mention the clothes they had been issued with - the picture of these human beings subjected to such sub-human conditions is a lacerating memory for each of the few survivors. 'Some went through the lion's cage, remaining there two or three days, and emerged free. These were called 'nobodies' - .. they were those who'd been 'picked up' and who were found to be of no use, (Miguel Angel D'Agostino, file No. 3901.)
After the first few days they took me to a cell. I adapted little by little to this life, learning how I had to live, the things I could and couldn't do. Despite the fact that I was always kept blendfolded and only taken out two or three times daily to the bathroom, I could obtain a general idea of the layout of the place where I was 'living'.
The camp, which was hidden underground, had two sections of cells, facing each other across an extremely narrow passage: on one side the even, and on the other the odd numbers. To take us to the bathroom, they opened the doors one by one - we each of us had to be standing ready as soon as they opened them - and from the end of the corridor the guards shouted the cell numbers, then we turned, each of us holding on to the shoulders of the one in front, forming a 'train' that was driven by a guard. (Ana María Careaga, file No. 5139.)
The camp had space for some 200 inmates and, according to those later freed, had housed over 1,500 individuals during its period of operation. This data can be deduced from the letters preceding the prisoners' number, each letter signifying another 100. From the evidence presented to the Commission on the Disappeared, the letter X was reached in November 1977.
The task forces based in this secret detention centre were basically directed from the capital and from Greater Buenos Aires, 'but they had an impunity that allowed them to go beyond such limits, as in the instance of Juan Marcos Hermann's kidnap, when he was brought from San Carlos de Bariloche to El Atlético (Press conference on 22 August 1984).
The personnel brought in by the security forces acted in conjunction with other secret detention centres like the Navy Mechanics School and the Campo de Mayo. The average number of prisoners brought in was six to seven daily, but there were times when up to twenty were admitted. At regular intervals a considerable number of prisoners were removed to an unknown destination. D'Agostino, relates:
The silence was absolute inside the 'tubes'. On the evening after a large exodus when around twenty people were taken away, this silence became even more acute ...
Sometimes we 'conversed' by giving small taps on the partitions between the tubes, or touching the shoulders of the man in front of us in the 'little train'. Everyone was waiting, silent and subdued, longing to get out of there; a sliver of hope always remained. The transfer contained - more even than fear - a degree of expectation ....