(Never Again) - Report of Conadep
The Campo de Mayo Hospital
However, without any doubt, one of the most hideous facts that the Commission learnt about and investigated in connection with young mothers who had disappeared and given birth in prison, was what took place in certain units of the Campo de Mayo Military Hospital.
Such serious incidents occurred in this hospital, which is situated in Buenos Aires province, that they were denounced to the judiciary by the Commission on Disappeared People on 14 August 1984.
In the relevant written statement we affirmed:
"... Among the declarations made, of particular importance were those of six obstetricians, four midwives and two nurses since, with the exception of only one of the doctors, they all still work in the Campo de Mayo Hospital, and together with a radiologist, who had the rank of first corporal, they worked in the hospital during the years 1976-7. According to these declarations:
a) The witnesses unanimously agreed that in the Epidemiological Unit of the hospital prisoners were held whose admission was not registered.
b) The prisoners were women in an advanced state of pregnancy.
c) The women were kept in the unit blindfolded or with their eyes covered in black sunglasses, and guarded.
d) in most cases they were subjected to Caesarean sections, and after the operation the mothers were separated from their babies, and it was never known where they went."
"The coincidence of the witnesses' accounts on these points reveals just how serious the facts were. This is not only because they imply that people were held illegally in a particular part of the Campo de Mayo Hospital, but also because the people held were pregnant women, who gave birth in secret, and because in most cases it can be presumed that the births were speeded up and performed by means of a Caesarean
section..." (Taken from the declarations made to the judiciary by the Commission on 14 August 1984 at the San Isidro Criminal Court, Dr. Mollard).
Among the declarations, those of Señor C.C. (whose complete personal details form part of the judicial inquiry) provide a mass of information which is revealing. The witness, who came to the Commission on his own initiative on 30 January 1984, tells how, while he was a nurse with the rank of corporal, he worked at the Campo de Mayo Hospital during the years 1976-7. There he learnt that in the individual rooms in the Epidemiological Unit, on the Men's Ward, pregnant women were held, tied to the beds by their hands and feet in the throes of labour and given a serum to accelerate birth. C.C. saw with his own eyes four or five women in this state who were alleged to be extremists and who were guarded by members of the Gendarmería. He also learnt from his colleagues at the hospital that there was a permanent inflow of pregnant women to that room, and that a sergeant a carpenter called Falcón - had raped one of the women and was punished with a ten-day arrest, but, as soon as this sentence was completed, he was allowed to continue his military service as normal. Señor C.C. added that when the moment came to deliver the baby, the prisoners were taken, presumably at night, to the Gynaecological and Obstetrics Department, which was presided over by Major Caserotto, who now, according to the witness, holds exactly the same post, but with the rank of lieutenant-Colonel. He also learnt from the talk in the hospitai that once a baby was born the prisoner was separated from the child, and immediately left the hospital for an unknown destination. As for the children, they were kept in the hospital nursery.
The witness C.C. also tells of the condition in which he saw the pregnant prisoners. They were always blindfolded, and indirectly he heard that after giving birth they were taken to the hangars of the Campo de Mayo. He also remembers how on one occasion forty to fifty people, both men and women, blindfolded and with their arms and legs tied behind their backs in such a way that they were completely immobile, were brought to the hospital. They were dumped on the floor in the General Epidemiological Unit, on the Men's Ward, by members of the Gendarmería, and guarded by them. C.C. did not know why that group of people was taken there, but he saw them arrive with his own eyes on a weekday at about 9 a.m. They were lowered from a covered vehicle like baggage. He remembers the scene as being some time in the years 1976/7, although he cannot recall the exact date.
From a nurse who used to work in the Campo de Mayo Hospital, the witness C.C. learnt that it was in the Military Institutes Headquarters that the task forces were trained, some of whose members were nurses, whose job it was to assist the members of the force.
The nurse referred to was a radiologist who worked in the General Lemos Military Academy. At the moment he is working in the Health Control Department, and has the rank of assistant sergeant.
Señor C.C. also tells how every night a Hercules transport plane would take off from the runway at the Campo de Mayo base. It was a type of aeroplane that could not be mistaken. When it took off it was always travelling in a south-easterly direction. It left between 11 p.m. and midnight and returned at between 1 a.m. and 1.30 a.m. after a flight that lasted no longer than one hour. The direction of the flights suggested that the planes passed between the Sergeant Cabral School and the Campo de Mayo Hospital. The witness gave his word that this happened because he had personally seen the planes on his nights on duty. When he was at home in the NCOs' barracks in the Campo de Mayo he also heard the noise of the planes, and discussed it with his wife. On these occasions they did not hear the return flight as they were generally asleep.
These daily flights, which only exceptionally ceased to be heard or seen, were commented on at the hospital. It was said that they transported prisoners who were dropped into the sea. And as regards the forty to fifty people that C.C. saw one morning in the Epidemiological Unit, what most struck him was their complete silence and immobility, even though it was clear that they were still alive because their bodies were not rigid.
On 3 May 1984, Dr M.S. came to the Commission on the Disappeared. (file No. 6514). His complete particulars are available in the relevant judicial declaration. He said that he joined the Gynaecological Unit of the Campo de Mayo Military Hospital as a medical intern, and was later put on the staff. He said that from 1976 on he had direct knowledge of the existence of pregnant women who were named N.N. (Identity Unknown) and who were held in buildings a distance away from the Gynaecological Ward. He added that during this time he began to do twenty-four-hour duty, with the result that he learnt more about the subject. In fact, attempts were made to force him to examine the women, but Dr M.S. consistently refused to do this. However, even though he never went into the unit in question, he could see that there were armed guards on duty as if it were a prison. The person who ordered Dr M.S. to visit the women was the military doctor Dr Julio César Caserotto, who was evidently the doctor in charge of these cases.
Dr M.S. said he did not know where such a number of mothers and babies went, because he never saw anything in this respect. However, he learnt from comments that Caesarean operations were carried out at night on women who came to the unit. And he remembered how on one occasion the doctor in charge, Dr Caserotto, after having rather too much to drink had said, 'How good it would be to practise an extraperitoneal Caesarean on the NNs (unknown persons).' He was referring to an operation technique that was not common.
On one occasion, while on dutv, he was called away to examine two of the NNs (unknown persons) - that is to say, two pregnant women. They were wearing dark glasses and were accompanied by four civilians who looked as if they worked for some security or intelligence service. They had brought the women to the hospital to find out if they really were pregnant. As on Previous occasions Dr M.S. refused to examine them. According to this doctor's declarations, on two occasions, while on duty, he saw small children with the staff of the Obstetrics Unit. The first time there were two children of between three and five years approximately, who looked very alike, which made him think they were brothers.
On the second occasion one of the nuns had a little girl with her of approximately two years who was crying and calling for her mother. In both cases Dr M.S. asked what the children were doing there, and the answer was that they had arrived at night and that there was no other information concerning them. When the witness passed the room a few hours later the children were gone.
Dr M.S. stayed in the Obstetrics and Gynaecological Units of the Campo de Mayo Hospital until 1980, and in his declaration he said that even in that year he was almost certain that there were cases of disappeared pregnant women continuing to be brought there. In Gynaecology all the doctors were civilians just as they were in the Obstetrics Department, with the exception of Major Caserotto, and another military doctor who stayed until 1978, and had the pretension of trying to 'improve the human race', This doctor was a very ambitious and excitable person and Dr M.S. heard that he was an active participant in the struggle against subversion. The civilian doctors had the same attitude as Dr M.S. - at least those who were on the staff in the Gynaecology Department - refusing to collaborate in practices which were obviously irregular and which took place in the hospital unit already referred to.
The accounts of another four doctors who made declarations to the Commission concurred fully with those made by the nurse Corporal C.C. and Dr M.S. Everyone agreed that Dr Julio César Caserotto, the head of the Maternity Unit, gave the orders.
The Commission then sent Major Dr Julio César Caserotto a questionnaire via the Army Chief of Staff. On 10 June 1984 Dr Caserotto replied. Among his answers he admitted that he had been head of the Maternity Unit between January 1977 and December 1983. He also said that he was aware that sick people had entered the Epidemiological Unit, but 'he did not know if they had been registered' (at the hospital), and he 'had no knowledge of the other matters that he was asked about'.
We also sent the judiciary declarations made Dy two women who worked (and continue to work) in the Obstetrics Department of the Campo de Mayo Hospital. The two women said they made their declarations with the authorization of their superiors.
Señora Lorena Josefa Tasca (file No. 6522) informed the Commission on 5 April 1984 that in 1978 she was told to attend a pregnant mother at the prison in the Campo de Mayo Hospital.
She was taken there by ambulance in the company of another doctor, whose name she has forgotten. She was wearing her usual uniform, but without the badge with her name on it, as she had been told to take it off. The pregnant woman was alone in a room, She was not blindfolded, she seemed about thirty years old, was dark, thin and small in stature. Señora Tasca could not remember if she was five or six months pregnant. The woman was calm and said that she did not need anything. After examining her, the obstetrician left and told Dr Caserotto about the case.
On another occasion in the Campo de Mayo Hospital itself, in the rooms at the end of the Epidemiological Ward, Señora Tasca remembers that there was a 'Caesarean patient'. In other words an operation had already taken place. The woman had no blindfold over her eyes, and her baby was in a cot at her side. The midwife went to the room as Dr Caserotto had asked her to accompany him to start the necessary treatment.
They also took another nurse with them. According to Señora Tasca, the young mother was in good health, and Dr Caserotto said that she could soon leave the hospital. There was another woman there as well, dressed in civilian clothes, who remained standing throughout the examination.
In her declaration, the midwife recalled a third case that took place while she was on duty. In the morning she was called by a nurse to assist at a birth. Señora Tasca thought it was a case that came from outside Campo de Mayo, which occurred frequently. However, to her surprise, on entering the delivery room she found a blindfolded pregnant woman, lying on a bed. There were also two officers in the room, and a third person in uniform who was apparently in charge, although he said nothing. She was ordered to assist the birth, something that she would have done instinctively anyway. There were no complications, and the blindfold fell from the woman's face in the course of it. Afterwards the officer who gave the orders asked Señora Tasca if everything was all right, and she replied that at that moment, yes, it was. The witness told the Commission that she did not know where the baby was taken after the birth, even though she said the usual thing would have been to take it to the nursery. The midwife also could not remember the sex of the baby that she handed to the nurse, However, she remembers that at the request of the director the patients were well attended.
Another obstetrician, Señora Margarita Allende, declared that when she was on duty on Saturdays in the years of the repression, she saw children who, according to the hospital staff, were the children of subversives, who had given birth in the Campo de Mayo Hospital. She also remembers accompanying her employer, Dr Caserotto, on three occasions to examine patients who were prisoners whom she found in the men's ward in the Epidemiological Unit in beds set apart.
Señor Rolalinda Salguero said that 'one of the peculiarities of these cases was that there was no sign of either the names or the surnames of the patient, and all that appeared were the letters N.N.'
In this respect Señora Nélida Elena Valaris (file No. 6372) also made serious allegations. She said that as a result of her work she became aware that people who were detained whose identity was unknown were in the Campo de Mayo Hospital. She said she had contact with them when accompanied by Dr Caserotto or another army doctor. She examined the pregnant women without knowing how many people she had attended. However, on one occasion - she believes it was in August 1977 - she was told to attend a birth. The patient was in the prison infirmary in the Campo de Mayo, on the way to Don Torcuato. Señora Valaris had flatly refused to go, but she had to obey when she discovered that the order came from her superiors, that is to say, from Dr Di Benedetto. On reaching the prison she found many people in uniform who told her the way to the infirmary, where she found a woman in labour. She was blonde, about thirty years old, her eyes covered with a muslin band, as in other cases. She said she was not in pain, and the birth went ahead without complications. All the time men on guard, some in green army uniforms and some in civilian clothes, stood by without moving. Señora Valaris said that the incident is ingrained in her mind because there were so many guards and soldiers present, and because of the conditions in which the birth took place. Finally, a boy was born. She said she didn't know anything else about the case, as no sooner had she finished the job, then she was taken back to the hospital in a van.