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Part I
The Repression

Nunca Más (Never Again) - Report of Conadep  - 1984


I. The attitudes of some members of the Church

The bishops of the Argentinian Church repeatedly condemned the repression which this Commission investigated. Scarcely two months had passed since the coup on 24 March 1976 when the Episcopal Conference in a General Assembly described the methods used as 'sinful'. In May 1977, after making representations to members of the Military Junta, it published a strongly worded document on similar lines.

Regrettably, some individual members of the clergy by their presence, their silence or even by direct involvement supported the very actions that had been condemned by the Church as a whole.

The following testimonies made reference to members of the clergy:

In 1977 I was a policeman in the Buenos Aires province. At the end of 1977 or beginning of 1978, I was summoned to the office of the Chief Inspector in the presence of Father Christian Von Wernich ... and I was asked whether I could knock a person out with a judo blow in the small space of the back seat of a car. ... On another occasion it was explained to us that we were to pick up from the La Plata Brigade three subversives who had been 'broken' in interrogation and had collaborated with the repressive forces in return for a promise that they would be transferred abroad. ... Identity documents had already been made out for them, but although they were in the subversives' names, the photographs were those of members of the police force. ... On the first trip, Corporal Cossani and two officers of the women's police force travelled with those documents, establishing where the ex-subversives were supposed to stay. This is how the first operation was carried out. We left Headquarters with three cars. Father Christian Von Wernich was waiting for us at the Detective Squad at La Plata. He had spoken to and blessed the ex-subversives and had orgarnzed a farewell for them at the same unit. The family (who were to await them in Brazil) had sent them flowers. The three ex-subversives - two women and a man - were allowed to go free, without handcuffs, and as far as they were concerned we were simply guards who were to take them to the airport and put them on the plane. We had been given express instructions not to carry arms but as we feared that a shoot-out might be simulated in which we could be killed, we decided to take both our issue weapons and a personal one. Father Christian Von Wernich was in the same car - no. 3 - as me.

'X' was a young man of approximately twenty-two years, fairskinned, with chestnut hair, who had lived near La Plata on the General Belgrano road.

The signal to start was a message we would receive on the radio asking our position. When we received the signal in car no. 3 I had to give the blow that would knock 'X' out. I hit him near the jaw but it did not knock him out. Giménez took out his issue gun. When 'X' saw it he flung himself on it and a fight started. This forced me to grab him by the neck and I hit him several times on the head with the butt of my gun. This produced several wounds and he bled profusely; both the priest, the driver and the two of us who were beside him were bloodstained ... The three cars went off along a side street towards a wooded place where Dr Bergé, the official doctor, was waiting.

The three ex-subversives who were still alive were taken out. They were thrown on the grass, the doctor gave them two injections each, directly in the heart, with a reddish poisonous liquid. Two died but the physician left all three for dead. They were loaded on to a van belonging to the unit and were taken to Avellaneda. We went to wash and change our clothes because we were bloodstained. Father Von Wernich left in another car. We immediately went to the Police Headquarters where Chief Inspector Etchecolatz, Father Von Wernich and all the members of the group involved in the operation were waiting for us. Father Von Wernich saw that what had happened had shocked me, and spoke to me telling me that what we had done was necessary; it was a patriotic act and God knew it was for the good of the country. Those were his very words ... (Testimony of Julio Alberto Emmed, file No. 683.)

We didn't leave the town [La Plata] but arrived at a place the captors called La Casita. The centre of operations of the group that had kidnapped us was there ... After the first torture session a priest came up to me. I later learned that he was Christian Von Wernich.

The priest returned several times; on one occasion he ordered me to remove the blindfold from my eyes, and when I refused to do so, he removed it himself. He told me he came from the parish church of Nueve de Julio in the Buenos Aires province. I once overheard Christian Von Wernich reply to a detainee who was begging for his life to be spared that 'the life of men depends on God and your collaboration'. On another occasion he came to me and touching the hair on my chest smiled and said, 'They burned the hairs ...' I also heard him defend and justify tortures, acknowledging that he had on occasion witnessed them. When referring to an operation he would say, 'When we carried out such and such operation...' (Testimony of Luis Velasco, file No. 6949.)

Von Wernich was also named in the following files: Nos. 2852 (deposition on the disappearance of María Magdalena Malner and Pablo Joaquín Mainer); 2818 (deposition on the disappearance of Cecilia Luján Idiart); 2820 (deposition on the disappearance of Domingo Héctor Moncalvillo); 2821 (deposition on the disappearance of Liliana Amalia Galarza); 2822 (deposition on the disappearance of María del Carmen Morettini); 6982 (testimony of Luis Larralde)

I visited Monsignor Grasselli at the military chaplaincy. He consulted his index file and told me it would be better if we kept quiet and did not make much fuss ...

I remember that when I told him that it was Daniel Grigón who had recovered his freedom, he picked up a pen and the card referring to my brother, Enrique, and crossed out the name Daniel. I remember too that the letter 'M' was written in red across the top of the card ... (Deposition on the disappearance of the journalist Enrique Raab, file No. 2776.)

Between April and May 1977, my husband and I had an interview with Monsignor Grasselli, who was then secretary to the military chaplain. During the second interview he informed us that both María Adelia, our daughter, and Rubén, her husband, were recorded as detainees up until April, but that after that date there was no record for them, from which it was to be presumed that the worst had happened ... So far as our other son Arturo Martín was concerned, he had never appeared on the lists as under arrest ...

Monsignor Grasselli had an office which was located in the parish church of Stella Maris, near Retiro, Buenos Aires city. To enter, one had to go through a very large office full of employees where each person was given a number equivalent to a pass which a1lowed one to enter Grasselli's office ... (Deposition presented by María Teresa Penedo de Garin, file No. 431).

Father Amador sent us to Monsignor Grasselli, who told us that the young people were in a rehabilitation programme in houses that had been set up for that purpose and where they were being well treated ...

He told us that Videla was the charitable soul who thought up this plan to avoid the loss of intelligent people ... he said that the work was carried out with psychologists and sociologists, that there were medical teams to deal with their health, and that for those who could not be recuperated, it was possible that 'some pious soul' might give them an injection to make them sleep forever ... (Deposition presented on the disappearance of Carlos Oscar Lorenzo, file No. 1560.)

Forty days after the disappearance we went to see Monsignor Grasselli, who told us to return a week later. We returned to see him as instructed, and Grasselli showed us a list of many names. He told us to look for our son's name. Those names with a cross by them were dead, the others were alive. ... According to this the victim was alive ... (Deposition of Adelina Burgos de Di Spalatro, flle No. 1526.)

The person in charge of giving information at the Stella Maris Chapel was a priest [Monsignor Grasselli] who told us he gave spiritual assistance to 'work groups'. Grasselli gave a description of Enrique and commented that he was known as 'Pingüilino', with other pieces of information that showed he knew the whereabouts of the victims; he concluded that Enrique had been shot ... (Deposition made by Jorge Alfredo Barry, file No. 270.)

In the Caseros prison, around March 1980, I was subjected to torture sessions by the head of the inspectorate, accompanied by the chief warder and in the presence of Father Cacabello, because I refused to collaborate with them ...

I hereby testify that during all the time I was under arrest no charge was ever brought against me and I was at the disposition of the National Executive. (Testimony of Eusebio Héctor Tejada, file No. 6482.)

... the chaplain Pelanda López visited me briefly on Sundays, chatting for a short while in the cells. He would justify torture. On one occasion one of the detainees told him. 'Father, they are torturing me terribly during interrogations and I beg you to intercede to stop them from torturing me any more.' Pelanda López replied, 'Well, my son, but what do you expect if you don't cooperate with the authorities interrogating vou?' On another occasion I told the chaplain that they could not possibly continue to torture me as they were doing, to which Pelanda López replied, 'You have no right to complain about the torture.' (Testimony of the trade unionist Plutarco Antonio Schaller, file No. 4952.)

I remember that during my stay at the penitentiary [Villa Gorriti Jujuy Prison] the Bishop of Jujuy, Monsignor Medina, conducted a service. and in the sermon he said that he knew what was going on, but all that was happening was for the good of the Fatherland, that the military were doing the right thing and that we should tell all we knew and that he was available to take confession ... (Testimony of Ernesto Reynaldo Saman, file No. 4841.)

I found him [Pedro Eduardo Torres] in the early days of June 1976 in the prison [Villa Gorriti-Jujuy Prison] where I was able to speak with him: he said to me that he had been told they were going to kill him ... Monsignor Medina, who frequently visited the prison, spoke to me about this 'transfer'. (Testimony of Mario Heriberto Rubén López, file No. 4866.)

…when I entered Villa Gorriti Prison I was alone in a cell, in solitary confinement. Monsignor Medina came to see me and he told me I had to tell him everything I knew. I replied that I did not know what it was I had to tell him, and that all I wanted to know was the whereabouts of my children. Medina answered that they must have been up to something for me not to know where they were. He insisted that I should speak and tell everything and then I would find out where my children were ... (Testimony of Eulogia Cordero de Garnica, file No. 4859.)

Monsignor Miguel Medina was also named by, among others, Emma Elena Giménez de Giribaldi (file No. 2459) and Gustavo Rafael Larratorres (file No. 4859).




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