(Never Again) - Report of Conadep
H. Agents and structures of repression
The National Commission on Disappeared People has been presented with a number of depositions and testimonies from people who acknowledged their involvement in task forces and other forms of operation of the repressive apparatus.
These depositions were linked to the knowledge they had of the methods used for repressive purposes, as well as containing accounts of kidnapping, torture and physical elimination.
In several instances this spontaneous collaboration came from repressive agents who had themselves been punished before 10 December 1983 by the Armed Forces and Security Forces for illicit action which was marginal to the anti-subversive struggle and motivated by individual interests. These same crimes went unpunished when they were part of a planned operation by the whole repressive apparatus.
In these cases, giving testimony was motivated not so much by the search for moral support, repentance, moral sanction or military honour, as by the conviction that they had been 'abandoned by their own superiors', after having contributed to the anti-subversive war, in some cases losing their career, in others risking their own lives, while they observed their superiors becoming wealthier, the generalized corruption of those of their own rank, and the loss of the aims which had originally been given as motivation for the struggle. (Testimonies Nos. 683, 1901 and
Some of those who gave testimony were influenced by the knowledge of the physical elimination of several brothers-in-arms 'because they were no longer of any use to their superiors or because they knew too much' (testimony No. 683). Only exceptionally did any of them show signs of repentance or moral responsibility for their experiences.
In some cases (testimonies Nos. 3157 and 3675), those giving testimony were resentful towards their superiors 'for having used us', involving them in a political and economic project which finally betrayed the 'nationalist ideals' for which they had joined the Army, the Police or paramilitary groups in the first place.
Feelings of guilt were expressed in perhaps two or three cases; others were sickened by the 'madness of it all'; others expressed a desire to denounce the atrocities they had witnessed or been responsible for, 'to prevent them from happening again' or to prevent 'my children from having to live through anything like it' (testimony No. 3675).
Any sign of disagreement within the Armed Forces and the Security Forces about the methods used for detention or elimination was brutally punished. To provide any information to the relatives about the arrested-disappeared, concerning their whereabouts, physical condition or destination, was tantamount to signing their own death warrant. They were forbidden even among members of their own ranks to comment about the operations carried out; they were punished with maximum severity if any sign of humanity were shown towards any prisoner:
My husband was a Federal Police Inspector in the Department of Political Affairs at Federal Security. He was an idealist within the Police; he was against torture and anything that could be considered cheating or corruption. His service record was impeccable and at twenty-five years old he was already an Inspector. His only mistake was to have provided information to relatives on the disappearance of detainees. Only two days after the disappearance of my husband, Carlos María, ... the wife of a second lieutenant ... let me know that I should 'no longer search for him because they have already killed him'. (Mónica De Napoli de Aristegui, file No. 2448.)
Any attempt to escape from the repressive structure, which members called the 'blood pact', could mean their persecution and even elimination.
In a flat opposite Berisso station were two women and a man. They were all killed. The last woman was 'finished off' as she descended the stairs with a broken arm - in fact she was dying by Chief Inspector Etchecolatz. After this 'confrontation' I was handed my credentials and my clothes. According to the Military Penal Code the use of disguises and false credentials in order to commit a crime leads to the maximum penalty. Mine were provided by the Chief Inspector himself, and yet this was why I was later accused and punished with the maximum penalty. (File No. 683.)
Another time I saw, near the swimming pool, a group of naked young women who were later taken to the torture rooms. Because I went there quite often I saw that torture was carried out on a metal bed, using a 'spider', a rectangular object connected to a plug which moves around when placed on the body of the victim. All detainees without exception were subjected to punishment by manual electric prod and beatings. I requested a change of post as I did not agree with the methods used and felt that it went beyond the call of duty; my whole career has been in police stations. But what was to determine my expulsion was that Officer Pozzi ordered me apparently to join an operation. We went to Carlos Pellegrini and when we saw a green Peugeot 504 we assaulted the driver (this is common practice in order to obtain cars for an operation). But I later discovered that Officer Pozzi kept the car for his own personal use after changing the registration plate and that the car was never incorporated into the fleet of cars used for operations. I reported this to Inspector Adorisio, telling him I was not prepared to carry out appropriations for the personal benefit of an officer, and requested that I should be transferred from that section immediately.
From that moment onwards, relations with the 'group' were tense, and worsened as a result of another private car which was appropriated for the Inspector's own use. I then went to the Area Chief of Federal Security who Adorisio serves under, to report the occurrence, and he replied that I had to 'understand that we were at war'. When I went to collect my salary (May to June 1978) I was put under twenty days' arrest, with no reason given. I was unable to get any explanations from my superiors. When I made an appeal I was arrested again, my assessment was lowered from 9 to 4 points and finally I was forced to take retirement in November 1981. (File No. 5612.)
On one of those nights [when bodies of detainees were burned] they started to put pressure on me to make me become more actively involved, saying, 'This one is too clean ...'
Once during 1976, five policemen were hanged on hooks for refusing to collaborate. It was common knowledge at Headquarters that they had not been killed by the subversives, as had been made public, but by their own comrades. And it was also common knowledge about the Voguel brothers who worked as lieutenant and second lieutenant in the Police Intelligence Headquarters of the province of Buenos Aires and who were found dead. We were told that one had hanged himself in his cell in Police Station No. 4 and the other had committed suicide by flinging himself from the third floor of Police Headquarters. The truth is thal they had been accused of collaborating with subversion. ... When I requested to resign together with some other comrades, a second lieutenant turned up and said, 'Don't sign your resignation, hang on wherever you're sent, because as civilians I don't give much for your chances.' (File No. 719.)
At a secret detention centre called Nueva Baviera (Tucumán province) an incident occurred because two detainees, Piturra and Ana, were sending out letters hidden in the laundry, taking advantage of the complicity of several police constables. One who used to take the letters was Constable Paiva who belonged to the Mobile Group of Buenos Aires. Piturra confessed immediately and Paiva disappeared. Another constable called Ríos who was also doing this kind of thing was dismissed within twenty-four hours, they say, which is very unusual. In Campo de Mayo - which is where we came from - Ríos's wife went to complain several times because he never returned home. One night in Campo de Mayo they 'picked up' Second Lieutenant Maldonado and took him away. A tall, thin man, he came from Córdoba and shared a room with Second Lieutenant Montes. He was never heard of again. (File No. 683.)
I began to become aware of what was happening when my friend Jorge H. Velázquez, a policeman from San Luis, was arrested ... He and I, and another member of the police force, Roberto Jesús Arce, discovered that a detective squad in San Luis, with the connivance of police and army officers, was involved in kidnapping for extortion, which resulted in the detention of totally innocent people who were then placed at the disposition of the National Executive. We three were members of groups involved in the anti-subversive struggle. We were nationalists and believed in what we were doing. We reported what we had discovered to the Army and to the second-in-command of the San Luis Police Force. The three of us were taken to the barracks of the 14th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Group which was part of the 3rd Corps under General Luciano B. Menéndez, where we were brutally tortured. We were 'walled up' all the time, our eyes blindfolded. I was tortured on several successive occasions with the electric prod and the submarino. Velázquez was hit until he lost all his teeth, and Arce was also brutally hit. With us the torturers worked with their faces uncovered. (File No. 3846.)
The preceding testimonies clearly illustrate the procedures employed by the so-called 'task forces' and their total disregard for the ethical norms which regulate the use of force by the State. The rules of the game used by the task force were similar to those used by gangsters, and their objectives were no different, But unlike gangsters, they were not restricted by possible repression by the forces of order; the task forces generated from the positions of power were paradoxically themselves 'the forces of order'.
This Commission believes that it is essential to carry out a judicial investigation into the integration of the task forces in the repressive structure. We believe that the possibility of determining satisfactorily the fate of thousands of disappeared people necessarily involves identifying the components of the task forces, those responsible for them, and their organic dependence on the Armed Forces. There is sufficient evidence to corroborate the existence of such groups and their 'legitimate' position in the formal structure of the Armed Forces.
The investigation of secret detention centres demonstrates that these worked within the military organizational structure devised for the anti-subversive struggle. This structure is described in 'secret directives', 'battle orders' and several documents used to restructure jurisdiction and to introduce organic modifications to aid the clandestine operation of repression.
The detention centres where the disappeared were held were responsible to different bodies. On the one hand the real and de facto control was usually the responsibility of the branch to which the establishment where it operated was attached; on the other hand there was a direct relation with the Corps headquarters or the highest-level headquarters of the region where the centre was located.
In joint actions, the different branches of the forces constituted the so-called task forces, which were the fundamental instruments of clandestine repression.
The task forces were made up of personnel from the different Armed Forces and Security Forces. Although they were located in militarv buildings belonging to the Security Forces, which provided them with the infrastructure and in some cases were responsible for the headquarters, task forces did not depend directly on those places but on the force where they had their headquarters. Army Task Force I and Task Force 2 [this will be explained below] had their headquarters in the central office of the 601st Battalion of Army Intelligence (Callao and Viamonte, Buenos Aires); Task Force 3 was dependent on the Naval Intelligence Service (SIN); Task Force 4 on the Air Force Intelligence Service (SIA); and Task Force 5 on the State Intelligence Service (SIDE). (Testimony, File No. 7170, by an ex-member of one of these groups.)
The established structure integrated the Corps of the different branches within the intelligence structure of the same branches, and the task forces were directly dependent on them. This structure was secret by its very nature and in turn depended directly on the respective Commanders-in-Chief.
The Commission has reliable official information available which indicates that such groups, known either as task forces or combat teams, were constituted anonymously. They met in predetermined places where instructions for the mission were given. The personnel had often never met previously. Once the mission was accomplished, the individuals returned to their original groups.
An officer of the Buenos Aires Police Force explained in his testimony (file No. 7316) the modus operandi of a task force:
... once the 'objective' or 'target' [subversive element] or suspect was identified, he was arrested. He was then taken to a place of interrogation and given the 'machine' (tortured with an electric prod) and information about other suspects was extracted. They were then arrested, and so it went on until a whole 'mosaic' or chain of people was obtained. In some cases the chain was cut when a detainee 'stopped short' [died] under torture. Only then, once a group of people had already been investigated, or a certain amount of information obtained, was it passed up to the higher commands of both Police Headquarters and Military Area Headquarters. The information was sent from the task force itself and was already coded. A 'confidential report' (in which the real procedures used were described) was made out at the police station together with a 20,840, in which information used as an 'official' cover was formulated, for example in cases of detainees who were 'cut' [killed], making it appear that they had died in a confrontation.
This testimony on some aspects of Task Force 2 was contained in file No. 7170. Several task forces were involved in the secret detention centres. Their members could interrogate detainees whose arrest had been ordered by their own task force or had been kidnapped by the operation group of the task force. The detainee was placed at the task force's disposal. Delegates of a particular task force could visit secret detention centres in search of a kidnapped person who could provide information for the intelligence tasks of their task force.
The operation of Task Force 2 prior to a detention was as follows: each case began with basic information which contained what was called 'origin and evaluation'.
The 'origin' comprised information which the task force obtained by its own means or via accusations or betrayals, interrogation or counter-intelligence. The information was then evaluated, taking into consideration the reliability of the source. After the so-called 'second phase' (1977) the main source of information was interrogation under torture. This basic information was supplemented by any earlier records available and orders were then issued to investigate further. The investigation involved ascertaining the home address, type of housing and neighbourhood, entrances and exits to the building, routes of access, escape routes, local police station and other information of interest relating to the suspect. The task force used the term sheeping' or 'doing a sheep' to someone (because of the initials - in Spanish - of the search order or 'Orden de Búsqueda'). The whole of this up-to-date information was known as the 'chronology' of the case. When required, specific investigations, known as 'technical penetrations', were carried out under 'appropriate' cover (for example, an employee from the telephone company, an immigration inspector, an inspector from the Buenos Aires Council, etc.) A dossier known as the 'case', numbered, with a real or code name, was compiled and sent to the Registry and Files (later known as the Records Section) at the 601st Battalion. After placing all the information on slides and microfilms it was classified alphabetically and numerically according to identity card numbers. Photographs of the suspects were obtained in a variety of ways. One method was through photographs kept in federal police or intelligence services records after the political affiliation of the suspect had been ascertained through investigations by the 'immigration inspectors'.
The number of the dossier or case was recorded in a book kept by the head of the task force team. When the information obtained justified action a target order was made out. That order was circulated to groups and operational units of the task force, ordering them to capture the person - the target order being virtually an order of arrest - or to search a particular place. (Testimonies in files Nos. 5884, 7170 and 7171.).