(Never Again) - Report of Conadep
Deaths in 'armed confrontations'
This was another of the methods used to cover up the illegal deaths of prisoners. Those being held as official prisoners at the disposition of the National Executive at the time of the military coup could not be killed without some 'reason' being claimed. The same applied to those who by whatever quirk of fate escaped disappearance into the shadows. If it had been decided that they should die, they were shot down in an 'escape attempt' or appeared as the casualties of an 'armed shoot-out'.
We are not referring to the alleged cases in which people apparently died fighting off security forces when their homes were raided, but to the cases in which people who had already been taken prisoner or held for some time under the absolute control of the authorities later appeared to have died 'in combat' or as a result of the application of the 'escape law'.
A detailed summing-up given by the Federal judge of Salta, Dr. José Javier Cornejo, is eloquent in this respect. It rejects the official version of the deaths of ten prisoners and the flight of two others as they were being transferred from the Salta Army garrison to the city of Córdoba. The judge's words were:
Salta, 29 February 1984. It is the opinion of this court that ... from the evidence in the case it emerges that the military personnel who went to take away internees from the jail behaved in a highly secretive manner during the transfer, always asking for the places they were going to operate in to be in darkness, and for the noncommissioned prison officers to be withdrawn. This is also indicated by the fact that their uniforms bore no mark of rank and that they did not behave among themselves like members of the Armed Forces ... The version of events as told by witnesses also coincides with the detail that the prisoners had been forbidden to take their basic personal effects with them. ... It should be noted that the strange circumstances in which their transfer was carried out were not repeated either before or afterwards. The witnesses' accounts are also corroborated by the fact that the supposed attackers of the military convoy did not have even the passive cooperation of the prisoners since they knew nothing of the attempt to free them, as we learn from the statement on pages 252/5 and that of the Director of Salta Penal Institutions, Braullo Pérez ... Nor is the version of events given in the depositions contradicted by the fact that - prima facie - some of the prisoners supposedly died in different places from where the convoy was attacked according to the military authorities. In the case of the married couple Usinger and Oglietti, which occurred in Jujuy, the police concerned had not started legal proceedings and, according to the report of the Pablo Soria morgue ... had tried without justifiable motive to prevent the corpses from being seen, bringing them in surreptitiously at six o'clock in the morning of 7 July 1976 and taking them away again at midnight of the same day, with a police guard throughout. These circumstances, and those surrounding the handover of the bodies of Maria del Carmen Alonso de Fernández, Pablo Eliseo Outes, Benjamín Leonardo Avila, Celia Raquel Leonardo de Avila and José Victor Povolo, strengthen the case for believing - prima facie - that events occurred as related on pages 5/6. So too does the fact that it did not emerge from the evidence given in court that any member of the terrorist group which attacked the military convoy near Pichana in General Gilemes District died as well as those prisoners being held in the local prison for breaking Law 20,840. Jorge Ernesto Turk Llapur, who was the only one not held at the Villa Las Rosas prison, was apparently being held by the Jujuy military authorities ... who, for a reason which at this moment remains unclear, had him transferred to Salta province before the incident under discussion, so that he could form part of the group of attackers. The version of the incident offered by the depositions on pages 5/6 is also supported by the fact that both inside the Mendilharzu vehicle and on the pavement near the fence along the road, there were a large number of pools of blood ... This does not tally with the report of the chief of the military garrison which, at least according to the note on page 190, states that only three people died at the scene of the shoot-out. This figure seems small in view of the description of the scene of the incident made by the General Güemes police, not to mention that the witness Nazario Giménez, who lives 4 kilometres from where the military personnel were supposedly attacked, did not hear gunfire ... Having - prima facie - dismissed the possibility that the prisoners could have died in a confrontation, the concrete aim of the investigation of the main case should be to clarify the circumstances in which nine internees at the Villa Las Rosas Prison died, two disappeared, and the death of Jorge Ernesto Turk Llapur occurred.
Another case which clearly reveals the existence of this procedure is that of the 'disappearance' of Mario José Miani. His file, No. 6257, contains the following deposition by his mother:
On 9 August 1978 my son left his home at 5 p.m. to do some shopping. He said that he would return at about 10 p.m. but he didn't, and this worried us. The next day, at 2 p.m., I received a phone call from a relative saying that my son had been injured in the leg and was being operated on at the San Isidro municipal hospital. I went there with my husband and on our arrival we discovered that my son was still in the operating theatre. On the morning of 10 August 1978, in our presence and that of the doctor and hospital staff, my son was taken away in a military ambulance. ... When I asked where they were taking him, a soldier took me to an older one (without insignia or other identification) who told me that my son would be transferred to the Campo de Mayo military hospital. When, that same day, my husband and I went to the military hospital, we were told that my son had not been brought in. Alarmed by all this, I wrote to General Suárez Mason, the commander of the 1st Corps based at Palermo. He responded with a strange letter written in his own hand, which said: 'Señora Maria Elena B. De Miani, Buenos Aires, 14 August
1978: I acknowledge receipt of your letter of 10 August about the case of your son, José. Our information corroborates what you say. I suggest that you go to the Commander of Military Institutes (Campo de Mayo) to obtain more information on the case. Yours sincerely.' With this letter I obtained an interview with the Commander of Military Institutes, General Santiago Omar Riveros, who denied that he was holding my son prisoner. On 8 February 1979, on one of my frequent visits to the Ministry of the Interior to ask about my son's whereabouts, I was told that he had died in an armed confrontation at Chapadmalal, Mar del Plata, on 19 December 1978.
As we shall see, part of this process of deliberate concealment of summary executions was the irregular manner in which burials were carried out. The clear aim was to avoid the bodies being identified, and so to prevent the murder of these people who had been arrested by the Armed Forces in their homes or in front of witnesses from being officially recognized.
For further proof one has only to look at the facts brought to light by the investigation in the municipality of Quilmes (file No. 6531) after corpses had been buried on police orders without the proper licences being granted.
On 24 June 1977 five subversives were killed in a clash with Buenos Aires Provincial Police and troops from the Domingo Viejobueno Arsenal Battalion. No charges of any kind were brought for the violent deaths of these five people, nor did any penal, federal or military judge intervene.
This is corroborated by General Fernando Exequiel Verplaetsen, then chief of police of Buenos Aires province, who states on page 81 of the case records that:
There is now no proof in the records of guard duty or charges ... that any judicial proceedings were instituted in the case in question, nor evidence in the archives of notes to various people, judges, correspondence files, etc., as they have been burned, and the legal proceedings were the responsibility of the military area in which the event took place.
The Commander-in-Chief of the Army stated in a telegram recorded on page 118 of the same file that, 'according to a report made by the command of the 1st Army Corps, it had no records on the case'.
The testimony of the police doctor concerned shows that no autopsies were carried out, only the professional checks needed to grant death certificates.
The way they were buried - naked and with a number from one to five painted on their chests with yellow paint - gives the impression that the dead bodies were treated as bundles, objects or animals, rubbish thrown on a tip. All the norms laid down by the laws on penal practice governing what should be done in these circumstances were totally disregarded.
Where are the clothes of the deceased? Why were they buried naked? Why were photographs not taken of the corpses so that they could later be identified?
We can assume from this procedure that it was part of a general policy of not identifying the dead, so that those who died in shoot-outs could not be distinguished from those killed while being held prisoner.