(Never Again) - Report of Conadep
Secret Air Force detention centres
The secret detention centre called El Olimpo operated within the Automobile Division of the Federal Police, housed at the intersection of Calles Lacarra and Ramón in Buenos Aires city. It began its clandestine operation as a secret detention centre as of 16 August 1978, a date on which a large number of prisoners were brought there from El Banco:
I was seized on 28 July 1978 and taken to El Banco, along with my son, Nahuel, who was two months old. There they forced me to implicate my husband by pointing a gun at my son. On 16 August we had to roll up our mattresses and wait at our cell doors for almost the entire day. As evening drew on, they handcuffed us in pairs and, with our possessions, carted us off in a lorry with wooden sides and a canvas flap. We arrived at a place full of dust, recently constructed, and where the cold was unbearable. (Isabel Ferndndez de Ghezan, file No. 4124).
I estimate they completed two or three journeys with the same lorry, into which approximately thirty people could fit. The same torturers accompanied us from El Banco to our new quarters. The new place had recently been built and adapted to contain the high security prisoners. (Elsa Lombardo, file No. 3890.)
We reached El Olimpo, so-called because it was 'the seat of the gods' ... (Graciela Trotta, flle No. 6068.)
For her part, Isabel Cerrutti (flle No. 5848), kidnapped on 12 July 1978 and held successively in El Banco and in El Olimpo until January 1979, gives details of the internal organization of the camp:
It was a secret centre built on a large car park. It contained three or four torture chambers, called 'operating theatres', and to the left of these were the offices belonging to Task Force 2. In the isolation sector the windows were blocked up with bricks. Outside there was a building used as lodgings by the officers. The 'pit' itself was a new construction, dismantled in 1979.
The reasons for this large-scale transportation remain obscure, although it is possible to deduce some connection with the fact that El Olimpo was sited closer to the centre of operations. As at El Banco, the groups in charge were divided into the different
Task Forces 1 to 3. The difference between it and the other camp lay in greater organization and an apparent flexibility in the treatment of the kidnap victims, a situation which later reverted to one just as harsh and pitiless. According to Isabel Cerrutti's evidence, this change arose from disagreements among the Task Force members themselves, who were quarrelling for control of the camp and to obtain a larger cut in the 'spoils of war'. The forces operating out on the street were not in contact with the prisoners, other than in exceptional cases. Guard duties were by the members of the Gendarmería.
The operational forces were under the control and supervision of the Headquarters of the 1st Army Corps based at Palermo in Buenos Aires city.
The different testimonies connecting the use of the secret detention centre with the 1st Army Corps were confirmed by gendarme Omar Eduardo Torres (file No. 7077):
I was serving in a detachment at the Campo de Mayo myself - 1st Mobile Unit - which was a squadron attached to the 1st Army Corps whose head in 1978 was General Suárez Mason...
When the football World Cup Final was over, some thirty of those men who'd been on duty in the stadium were brought to the Campo de Mayo, where the deputy commander issued us with instructions (his nom de guerre was Cortez) concerning a special mission for which we would be paid overtime. We had to let our hair and beards grow long and assume false names. Later, in the early part of July 1978, we were ordered to appear at the building at the intersection of Calles Lacarra and Falcón. When we entered, we saw employees of the Federal Prison Service finishing off the building that was intended to accommodate the prisoners. I could often see those in charge of the prisoners, called 'the gang', taking away the household goods of the houses they had raided in their cars. There was also a safe for storing the looted booty. We were made responsible for the internal security of the camp, and weren't allowed to communicate with the prisoners, although occasionally we took them out to the toilet. The inside of El Olimpo concentration camp was like a prison. Its entrance gave on to a guardroom, where there was a book in which the admission and the departure of the prisoners were registered, together with the cell assigned to them, as well as the number and letter allocated to them to replace their own Christian and surnames. There too was set down the reason for their detention ...
The prisoners were driven out to Palomar Air Base, where other lorries containing prisoners arrived, and all were loaded on to aeroplanes. From what people said, they would then throw the prisoners out into the sea. Sometimes I would have to perform other tasks in addition to guard duty, like going to obtain the food from the Ciudadela Regiment or, on one occasion, go to the Military Hospital to guard a prisoner from El Olimpo who had been very badly tortured, in spite of which he was manacled hand and foot. I also took part in the Task Forces, going out to conduct operations for which we requested a 'free zone' from the police station in the zone in which our activities were undertaken. The participating groups were Task Forces 1 and 2. Other officers from the Army, the Federal Prison Service and the Federal Police were also present.