(Never Again) - Report of Conadep
Main secret detention centres within the jurisdiction
of the Buenos Aires provincial police headquarters
Campo de Mayo
As a result of evidence and statements that concurred as regards descriptions of places and characteristic noises, and of plans that were drawn up of the place, two inspections were carried out at the garrison, as a result of which two sites were identified and recognized by the witnesses. One was located in the firing range, near the parachute camp and military aerodrome, and the other attached to the Intelligence Network, opposite the Sargento Cabral NCO training school.
The first of these held the larger number of disappeared prisoners and was known as 'EI Campito' or 'Los Tordos'. One gets there along a dirt track that begins alongside the buildings of the Gendarmería, and via another track, now asphalted, starting opposite the shooting range perpendicular to the road that runs from inside the garrison to connect Route 8 with Calle Don Torcuato.
The maps that had been drawn up based on data provided by released prisoners coincide with the topographical charts of the spot from 1975, which were obtained from the Military's Geographical Institute. Both show the existence of three large buildings and of a large open shed, none of which is now standing. Small depressions can still be seen in the ground in that area, and during the inspection witnesses also recognized rubble left by the former buildings and topographical details relating to the terrain and the trees. When there, witnesses identified the places where the buildings and the open sheds had served as their prisons, convincing both themselves and the Commission that this was indeed the site on which the former secret detention centre had stood.
When the prisoners reached the Campito they were stripped of all their personal effects and assigned a number as their sole means of identification, for once inside they would be deprived of their human status and from then on would only be the 'disappeared', as far as the world outside was concerned. Javier Alvarez (file No. 7332) remembers: 'The first thing they told me was to forget who I was, that as of that moment I would be known only by a number, and that for me the outside world stopped there.'
Beatriz Castiglioni (file No. 6295) affirmed in her turn:
One character informed us that they were at war, that my husband and I were there for our criminal records to be checked, that we would become numbers, that we were 'unofficial', and that no one would find out where we had ended up no matter how much our relatives searched for us.
Then they were thrown into one of the open sheds, where they were kept in chains, hooded and forbidden either to talk or to move, and were only taken out to the torture room, situated in one of the outhouses. Juan Carlos Scarpati (file No. 2819) explains:
They wounded me with nine shots when they seized me. First they took me to a place which - as I later found out - was called La Casita, a branch of the Intelligence network. After several hours they took me to the Campito where I was left without medical attention apart from that afforded by a fellow prisoner who was a gynaecologist and treated me with antibiotics and a serum in the 'sick bay', which was in the same building as the torture chamber. There one would have to witness the torture and even death of others, as they tried to force prisoners to talk. The length of torture depended on how far the interrogator wished to go, given that the limit had been set at death, which for the prisoner meant liberation.
Iris Pereyra de Avellaneda (file Nos. 1639 and 6493) states:
I was arrested together with my fourteen-year-old son, Floreal, on 15 April 1976. They were looking for my husband, but as he wasn't there they took us two to the Villa Martelli Police Station. From there on they took me, hooded, to the Campo de Mayo. There they put me in a large open shed where there were already other inmates. At one point I overheard that one of the prisoners had been bitten by the dogs which they had there. Another night I heard terrifying cries and then silence. The next day the guards commented on the fact that they had 'gone too far' with one of the Swift workers and he had died. I left that camp to go to Olmos prison. The corpse of my son turned up along with seven others on the Uruguayan coast. His hands and feet were tied, the back of his head shot away, and he showed signs of having been subjected to horrific tortures.
On 22 April 1976 the Military Institutes' High Command asked that Iris de Avellaneda be put at the disposition of the National Executive, and on their note specified the office in which she had been held: the Military Institutes' High Command.
Hugo Ernesto Carballo (file No. 6279) was detained in the National Military College, where he was doing his military service, on 12 August 1976:
First they took me to the college infirmary, where they blindfolded and gagged me. From there they took me in a 'carrier' to a secret detention centre where they held me in a large open shed. They chained me by just one foot because my other one was in plaster. There were a lot of prisoners there and one continually heard shouts, dogs barking and helicopter engines. I remained there for several days until they took me back to the college, together with two Others, Throughout the journey we were beaten until we arrived and were thrown into a room. After a while several officers arrived, among them General Bignone, who informed us that in a dirty war the innocent paid for the guilty. During my captivity in the Campo de Mayo I was interrogated in a room by a character who called himself 'the doctor'. On leaving there a pack of dogs was turned on
Beatriz Castiglione de Covarrubias, who was imprisoned with her husband when she was eight months pregnant, recounts:
They took my husband away to a large open shed. They took me first to a small shed containing other people and then to a room in another building. There too, there were more prisoners. While they interrogated me, they threatened me, saying that they had all the time in the world and as soon as I'd had the baby 'they would really do me in'. On 3 May 19 77 they told us that they were going to set us free. They asked our pardon for having made a mistake. On the journey out we were told that if we said anything about what had taken place they would return to seek us out and 'do us in', after which they left us in the Tigre Delta.
Serafin Barreira (file No. 5462) was imprisoned in El Campito at the same time, together with his wife, who was also pregnant. He recalls:
... inside the building, to which we gained access through a door number 4, there were lots of people brought in from secret detention centres all over the country. While I was there, two births took place in another shed nearby. The newborn infants were taken away at birth.
Until mid-1977, deliveries took place in the open sheds. Scarpati recounts that at that point a doctor came from the Campo de Mayo, and gave his opinion that not even minimal conditions existed for attending deliveries there. From then on women in labour were taken to the Campo de Mayo hospital where women who were due had inductions and Caesarean sections were performed.
The secret detention centre was effectively run by the 'interrogators', who were those with the responsibility for deciding on questions of torture, transfer or release. Guard duty was carried out by the Gendarmería, and the camp itself was under the control of the Military Institutes' High Command.
This secret detention centre had been set up by March 1976 and, according to a member of Task Force 2 (Oscar Eduardo Rodríguez, file No. 7171) in his declaration to the Commission on the Disappeared, he was put in charge of dealing with the ogistical problems of the camp's installation at the request of the Chief of Intelligence in Military Institutes, Colonel Ezequiel Verplaetsen, to ensure the swift and effective creation of a secret detention centre.
The place intself consisted of three large buildings, then the toilets and other outhouses, all of them old, and of two large open corrugated iron sheds.
The Commissio, through analysis of the files and of the data provided by the Computer Centre, and through the showing of photographs to witnesses, succeeded in establishing the identity of a good number of people of whom there had been no news at all since their disappearance, and who had at some time passed through the sheds of this secret detention centre.
Despite the destruction of evidence and the elimination of traces, one can uncover the operation of this secret detention centre through the cross-referencing of evidence, and corroborations.
The prisoners who were held there were, after a while, transferred to an unknown destination, transported in lorries which generally headed for the end of one or other of the nearby aeroplane runways,
The transfers did not take place on set days, and tension reached untold heights for most of the prisoners. It produced a strange mixture of fear and relief, given that one both dreaded and longed for the transfer that on the one hand spelt certain death, and on the other meant the end of torture and agony. One felt relief, knowing that all this would end, though also fear of death, though not the fear of any death - which most of them could have faced with dignity - but of that particular death which is dying without disappearing, or disappearing without dying. A death in which the person dying had no part whatever: like dying without a struggle, as though dying being already dead, or like never dying at all. (File No. 2819.)
The other place serving as an interrogation and secret detention centre within this garrison was that belonging to the Intelligence Department, and known as La Casita or Las Casitas. It was once again identified by witnesses to the Commission. Mario Luis Perretti (file No. 3821) reports:
I was detained on 7 June 1977, half a block from my home in San Miguel. I was hooded and taken to a place where, once out of the vehicle, I had to clamber up a steep slope, seemingly of cement, They took me into a place they called 'La Parrilla'. They threatened to bring in my wife and son. Four or five days preceding 20 June I remember hearing commanding voices ordering soldiers to march with drums, and at nights and weekends I heard they had closed the access road, along which one heard vehicles passing by day.
During the inspection it was possible to identify an embankment as the concrete slope the prisoner was made to climb on his arrival.
There are other testimonies locating a further secret detention centre in the military prison at the Campo de Mayo (Aldo Rodríguez, file No. 100; Jorge Pampani, file No. 4016).