Headlines

RIGHTS-ARGENTINA: Hands-On Course in Torture

Viviana Alonso

BUENOS AIRES, Jan 16 2004 (IPS) - Argentine President Néstor Kirchner has ordered an investigation into allegations that torture techniques continued to be taught in a military training centre even after the country’s return to democracy in 1983.

Argentine President Néstor Kirchner has ordered an investigation into allegations that torture techniques continued to be taught in a military training centre even after the country’s return to democracy in 1983.

”This is extremely serious,” Hebe de Bonafini, the president of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo human rights group, told IPS.

At a news briefing Thursday, she showed copies of photos allegedly taken at an army base in the central province of Cordoba.

The Argentine government obtained the documents and photos that purportedly show that torture methods were taught at the commando training camp, which operated between 1986 and 1994.

The people in the photos who have been identified so far are army, navy and air force officers or non-commissioned officers, as well as members of the federal police force.

According to human rights activists, all of those involved in the training were apparently ”volunteers or members of the armed forces and the security forces who wished to form part of commandos.”

The photos show dozens of hooded semi-naked men with their arms tied behind their backs, sitting on the ground in a remote, hilly area surrounded by a wire fence. Loudspeakers and military barracks and vehicles can also be seen.

According to Bonafini, the trainees ”were forced to listen to Marxist harangues” over the loudspeakers in a mock concentration camp, where they were mistreated in preparation for what they might face at the hands of the enemy.

”This is shocking. It is part of an army that we believed had left that past behind,” said the president of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, Estela de Carlotto, referring to the systematic human rights violations committed by the 1976-1983 military dictatorship, when as many as 30,000 people were tortured and ”disappeared”.

”The idea was that those who could endure the worst were the most fit to form part of the commandos,” said the activist. ”It seems impossible that the country’s leaders were unaware of these aberrant practices.”

”We were shocked and are indignant with the constitutional governments that tolerated this, and we celebrate the fact that today there is such a different attitude,” said journalist and activist Horacio Verbitsky, the head of the Centre for Legal and Social Studies (CELS), another prominent local rights group.

After the restoration of democracy in December 1983, Argentina was governed by president Raúl Alfonsín (1983-1989), who was succeeded by Carlos Menem (1989-1999).

The photos, discovered in a locale in Cordoba where a photo lab previously operated, were analysed Thursday by the government’s Human Rights Secretary Eduardo Luis Duhalde, Defence Minister José Pampuro, and army chief Roberto Bendini.

After the preliminary review of the photos, Kirchner called together representatives of the country’s leading human rights organisations, including CELS, the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, and the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo Founding Line.

At the meeting in the seat of government, the president asked the activists to assist in the investigation, whose results could embarrass and implicate former government leaders and members of the military on active duty between 1986 and 1994.

Former president Alfonsín said he knew nothing about the training camp, and underlined his record as ”a crusader against torture.”

”If it is proven that torture was committed, the law that I sent to Congress, which puts torturers on the same level as murderers, should be applied,” said Alfonsín, who pointed out that it was his government that ”signed the international treaty against torture.”

Martín Balza, army chief under Menem, admitted that one aspect of the commando training involved ”interrogations, which included certain practices that are not in line with the dignity of the soldier.”

But Balza clarified that ”the entire methodology of the commando course” was modified in 1990, and that when he became army chief in 1991, those practices were completely eliminated.

The retired general explained that ”the commando training course involved officers and non-commissioned officers who were all volunteers. All of the world’s armies have commandos, highly specialised troops who can endure great physical and mental demands.”

CELS lawyer María Elba Martínez said in Cordoba that the photos provided evidence of the existence of a training camp that activists have been denouncing for years.

Cordoba ”was always a centre for the training of torture,” something that ”is known in other Latin American countries” as well, she said.

Carlotto said ”It would not be surprising if military personnel from other countries had received training and instruction there.”

”It is well-known that U.S. military trainers instructed military personnel from other countries after the war in Vietnam, just as the French did after the war in Algeria,” she added.

Verbitsky demanded the necessary investigations ”to determine the political responsibilities of Alfonsín and Menem, their defence ministers, and their armed forces chiefs.”

At the last minute, the government cancelled a news conference late Thursday. The press received the information from the local human rights groups.

 
Republish | | Print |

Related Tags

Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean

RIGHTS-ARGENTINA: Hands-On Course in Torture

Viviana Alonso

BUENOS AIRES, Jan 16 2004 (IPS) - Argentine President Néstor Kirchner has ordered an investigation into allegations that torture techniques continued to be taught in a military training centre even after the country’s return to democracy in 1983.
(more…)

 
Republish | | Print |

Related Tags