RIGHT TO PERSONAL SECURITY1
A. General Considerations
1. The present Chapter refers to two highly important aspects of every person’s actual enjoyment of his right to physical security. These two aspects are the prison system, and the use of physical coercion and torture.
The Constitution of Argentina guarantees the right to personal security: “The death penalty for political offenses, all kinds of torture and beating are forever abolished. Prisons shall be healthy and clean, used for security and not for the punishment of the prisoners confined therein, and any measure that under pretext of precaution inflicts punishment beyond the demands of security, shall render liable the judge who authorizes it.”2
2. The criminal laws of Argentina contain extremely clear provisions to safeguard the security of prisoners. Thus, the Penal Code, in regulating crimes against individual freedom, establishes different degrees of punishment for those who reduce people to slavery or to a similar condition, and for those who commit crimes or make religious or racial threats, or threats of vengeance, or who cause serious injuries to the person, health or business of the offended party, whenever the victim dies as a result, is detained indefinitely and is not brought before a judge, is placed in detention facilities that are not intended for such purposes, is subject to abuse, brutality or unlawful force, and is subject to any kind of torture. The penalty imposed on those responsible for such acts is raised to the maximum whenever the victim is a political prisoner and dies as a result of the torture inflicted.3
3. During its on-site observation in Argentina, the Commission paid special attention to verifying denunciations received on violations of the right to personal security. In order to do this, the Commission carried out the work it considered necessary, and was provided with the facilities it requested from the Argentine Government. It visited various detention centers, spoke with prisoners in different prisons, obtained direct testimony from victims of violations of the right to personal security, both from those still in prison and those who have been released, and obtained reports from family members and various sectors of Argentine society. As a result of eyewitness inspections, the Commission was able to make an objective assessment of the actual facts.
During its stay in Argentina, the Commission received hundreds of letters from persons incarcerated in various detention centers throughout the country.
As will be explained in the final section of this Chapter, the Commission reported attacks on the right to personal security, that it had been able to verify, to high government officials and requested information on any punishment imposed on those responsible for these abuses.
B. Prison system
1. The prison system in Argentina is regulated by the National Law on Penitentiaries, which is a supplement of the Penal Code. According to the provisions of this law, the purpose of imprisonment is the social rehabilitation of the person sentenced, and the prison system must use any methods of prevention, and any corrective and educational treatment, social assistance and any other type of treatment that may be available to it, based on scientific progress made in this area in accordance with the particular needs of each case. Prison sentences will not include torture or maltreatment, nor acts or procedures that harm or humiliate the person sentenced.
Any prison staff member ordering, carrying out, or tolerating excesses of this kind will be liable for the penalties set forth in the Penal Code, in addition to any applicable prison sentences. The operational regulations contained in this law and its further regulations shall be applied to prisoners without discrimination, other than the differences that may result from the individualized treatment they must receive. The prison system applied to the prisoner shall, regardless of the sentence imposed, be characterized by its progressiveness, and shall consist of a period of observation, a period of treatment, and a period of testing. An individual sentenced or subject to security measures and placed in penitentiary facilities shall be designated interno (intern), and shall be called “only by his first name and surname.”4
2. When the present government was installed on March 24, 1976, it issued specific rules for those detained for reasons having to do with l’ordre publique or security of the state, and it reaffirmed the Decree approving the Regulations of the Security Institute, which was subsequently modified and extended to those detained at the disposal of the Executive in any federal penitentiary facility, as part of the national security laws to combat subversion.5
The special laws in question were abrogated in April 1979, when the “Regulations applicable to detainees tried and sentenced for subversive crimes and to DT detainees at the disposal of the Executive,” were approved, along with other regulations including the Operating Rules for the Interdisciplinary Teams.6
The new Regulations are intended for unrestricted application to persons detained, tried and sentenced for crimes classified as subversive, and for those DT detainees, who are classified as “terrorist criminals” (delincuentes terroristas) who are at the disposal of the Executive, “whose dangerous nature and characteristics require that they be imprisoned in maximum security facilities.” “The DT—Article 9—detainees shall be obliged to strictly observe the internal rules in force in the penitentiary unit, the purposes of which are to ensure that they are kept un custody, to regulate their life in common, and to preserve their physical and mental health.”
3. A general analysis of the laws in force for the treatment of persons detained for subversive activities shows that the detainees’ activities schedule is determined by the Director of the Unit. For those who must, according to the regulations, be called “terrorist criminals,” (the National Law of Penitentiaries states, as indicated above, that they are to be called internos, and must only be referred to by their first names and their surname), the law prescribes duties and privileges. Their duties include refraining from singing, whistling, shouting, holding furtive conversations by signs, or other unseemly conversations; raising one’s voice, playing prohibited games and in general, any act or omission that means a change in the prevailing order; they must submit completely to inspections of their person, lodgings and effects, and must remove their clothing for a detailed check whenever required; they must refrain from any other acts of indiscipline, and from political and/or union activities. The “DT” detainees may, on an individual basis, write petitions and/or briefs to the authorities of the prison facility, but any mass petition is a serious violation of discipline; they may file petitions regarding their personal problems, but are prohibited from acting as spokesman for problems of third parties and/or mass problems. Any “DT” female detainee with children below the age of two may keep them with her, and when the child reaches the age of two, if the father or other family members who are obliged to maintain it are not in a position to take responsibility for the child, the Administration of the Penitentiary will allow intervention by the pertinent jurisdictional or administrative authority. For those “DT” detainees who comply with the obligations called for under the rules, the Regulations include privileges such as daily recreation of up to three hours, and the Director of the facility “may authorize sports and gymnastics activities,” i.e., this type of physical exercise is left up to the Director of the prison facility. The failure by a “DT” detainee to observe the rules and obligations will temporarily cause him, by the decision of the Director of the facility, to lose one or all of the privileges granted, but he may always “receive one visit and write one letter per month.”
The Regulations establish conditions for medical assistance and food, but the “DT” detainee is in no case allowed to cook in his living quarters nor receive food from outside. They also regulate spiritual counseling, visits from defense lawyers and diplomatic authorities, visits from family members, provided they behave themselves well, and in cases where visitors live more than three hundred kilometers from the facility, they will be allowed six days of consecutive visits, except for Sunday, for one hour per visitor each 45 days. As regards mail, there is prior censorship, while punishment includes progressive measures; a warning, partial or total withdrawal of privileges for up to 30 days, confinement to the individual cell, with a reduction in facilities for up to 30 days, and isolation in a disciplinary cell for up to 30 days.
As regards methods of control, there is a prohibition on the use of handcuffs, straightjackets or other such measures of subjection as punishment, except for cases where this is expressly indicated.
According to the Regulations, detention facilities must have an Interdisciplinary Team, responsible for examining the “DT” detainee, in order to classify him, describe his conduct, evaluate him, and draw up evaluation reports on applications to leave the country, supervised release, conditional release, pardons and commutations of sentences. The classification is done by taking account of the personality traits of the detainee, on a scale of “adaptable”, “possibly adaptable”, and “adaptable with difficulty”; and the evaluation is done according to his conduct on the basis of the following scale: a. good, b. regular, c. bad, and d. extremely bad.
The Regulations also contain provisions on work, education and social assistance, with the following provisions respecting the latter: “facilities shall be provided and encouragement given to the maintenance and improvement of relations of DT detainees with their families, insofar as this may be advisable for them and compatible with the prison regime.”7
The purpose of the Operating Regulations of the Interdisciplinary Team is to classify fully the personality of the DT detainee. They must also produce evaluation reports for applications to leave the country, for supervised release, conditional release, pardons, and commutations of sentence. The Interdisciplinary Teams are responsible for determining the particular regime applicable to the detainee, “in order to make it possible to reorient the terrorist criminal held in detention and make for his complete rehabilitation and re-entry into society.”
In order to “assess each DT detainee, the Interdisciplinary Teams shall evaluate their impression of his character, tendencies, morality, dangerousness and other personal conditions, beginning with his overall outward appearance.” Each Interdisciplinary Team is headed by a Unit Director and consists of the chiefs of the services representing the essential aspects of the regime in use, and a delegate from the Military Authorities; in the performance of their specific duties, they are administratively and technically responsible to the Military Representative and the Director of the Penitentiary Unit.8
4. Despite the stated purposes of the special regulations in force, which in and of themselves are rigid, they are not carried out in actual practice in some detention facilities, as the Commission was able to ascertain during its on-site observation. The treatment given prisoners is not uniformly severe and varies according to the detention center, the regime applied and the degree of understanding shown by the authorities of each prison Unit. Thus, as stated in the present Chapter, the Commission was able to see variations in the detention centers it visited.
C. Inspections in prisons and other detention centers
1. During its on-site observation, the Commission conducted eyewitness inspections of various prisons and other detention centers in Argentina, in order to make an objective assessment in situ of the conditions in which detainees are and have been held.
Following the 1976 military takeover, and until the early months of 1979, the Commission received numerous documents and a great deal of testimony about the situation in various kinds of prisons throughout the country, and was given information about the existence of other special detention centers, secret locations that have popularly been called “concentration camps.”
On the basis of the information and testimony received by the Commission during this period, the following official centers or establishments existed and were used in Argentina for imprisonment of persons detained for reasons having to do with l’ordre publique and the national security: in Buenos Aires, the capital, the Villa Devoto prison, for both men and women; the Caseros prison, and the new prison for those held in custody in Caseros, which was still under construction at that time. In La Plata, Unit 9 prison for men, and the prisons of Olmos with separate wings for women and men; the Magdalena prison in the Province of Buenos Aires, a military-type facility. The Sierra Chica prison in Olavarría, a small city approximately 450 kilometers from the capital. The men’s prison and the women’s prison of Córdoba about which increasing numbers of denunciations of human rights violations against detainees charged with having been involved in subversive activities were reaching the Commission. In Tucumán, a mixed prison. In Coronda, in the Province of Santa Fe, a men’s prison. In Resistencia, the Resistencia Prison. In Santa Rosa, capital of the Province of La Pampa, the only prison in the area. In Rawson, capital of the Province of La Pampa, the only prison in the area. In Rawson, a prison of the same name for prisoners whom the government considers require maximum security because of their dangerousness.
It should also be noted that the majority of the detention centers mentioned are detention facilities for common prisoners, but that they also hold detainees accused by the Government of subversive activities, the majority of whom are officially called “terrorist criminals” (DT).
2. With regard to clandestine places or centers of detention, the Commission had received information on the following places: In the Capital, Buenos Aires, the Superintendence of federal Security or federal Coordination; the Navy Mechanics School; the Command of the First Army Corps, the Headquarters of Battalion 601 of the First Infantry Regiment and of the Tenth Brigade; the Campo de Mayo, which is several hundred hectares in size, with all types of military installations.
According to information received by the Commission, other places of detention are: in Buenos Aires, the military installation located at the intersection of the Avenida General Paz or Avenida de Circunvalación and the Avenida de los Constituyentes; the Guemes Brigade (Brigada Guemes), a police unit consisting of a number of facilities located at the intersection of the General Riccheri Highway and the Beltway (camino de Cintura) on the road to the International Airport of Ezeiza; a military unit located between the Avenida Garay and the Paseo Colón in the federal capital; the police station located on the Avenida Olivera and the Calle Ramón Falcón in the federal capital; the offices of the Naval Prefecture, on the Costanera Sur on the River Plate; a center for criminal studies near Route 205 and the International Airport of Ezeiza; the Ciudadela Regiment, military in nature, in the town of the same name near Buenos Aires; the motorized army center called the Tablada Regiment, in the place of the same name.
The Commission received information on clandestine detention centers in the interior of the country. In La Plata, the headquarters of the 601st Battalion, which as stated earlier, has another center in the city of Buenos Aires; the Seventh Infantry Regiment, of a military nature; Sections Nos. 1, 2, 5 and 7 of Police Headquarters; the two police stations located in the town of San Justo between Buenos Aires and La Plata. The Marina arsenal in the city of Azul, approximately 30 kilometers from Olavarría. In Puerto Belgrano, Bahía Blanca, said to be the largest naval base in the country, where it was said that prisoners accused of subversion were held in old ships that had run aground and were no longer in use.
In Junín, in the Province of Buenos Aires, the military facilities of Junín. In Córdoba, the places called La Rivera and La Perla. The place called Famailla, a wooden structure, in the Province of Tucumán. The center called Chamical, in the Province of La Rioja, under the Air Force. San Martín de los Andes, in the Province of Neuquén, in the south of the country, near the Andes. The Regiment of Covunco, in the Province of Santa Cruz. A farm in the south of the Province of Buenos Aires, near the town of Flores, which it appears from the denunciations received by the Commission, is the place where, in 1977, a number of journalists were taken by helicopter to meet with some persons detained for subversive activities whom the Government said were prisoners who had surrendered voluntarily and were in the process of re-education.
The places mentioned were considered clandestine detention centers, i.e., for the temporary detention of persons classified as illegal, because they were not recognized by the Government as official detainees, and were or have been used, according to the information (maps and tentative organization charts) in the possession of the Commission, for interrogation and torture in the stage prior to official detention. Some persons filing denunciations called these places chupaderos (“roughing-up centers”). Statements received during the on-site observation or prior to it, and conversations with certain detainees in various prisons around the country, and with persons both inside and outside Argentina who had been released after short or long periods of detention or after having “disappeared”, referred to places where they alleged they were subjected to interrogation, unlawful coercion and torture. In the majority of cases, the detention centers described showed similarities with some of the clandestine or secret detention centers.
During the on-site observation, the Commission visited some of these detention centers. These included the Superintendence of federal Security or federal Coordination in Buenos Aires, where the Commission inspected the narrow dungeons called “tubes”; the Navy Mechanics School, some parts of which are being reconstructed; the police station located in an old tramway terminal, which is not identified outside, on the Avenida Olivera and the Calle Ramón Falcón, where there were many Ford Falcon autos with or without police identification; and the National Penitentiary School, near route 205 and the International Airport of Ezeiza, where the Commission saw the inside of an old adjacent building that is practically abandoned. In Córdoba, the Commission saw the military barracks used by the parachute troops in the place known as La Perla; some old and apparently abandoned buildings on the route to La Perla, and the military prison called La Rivera.
During these visits, the Commission made a general inspection, but in none of the places visited did it find evidence or signs of the presence of detainees.
3. Between March and July 1979, the Commission received information indicating that on the occasion of the non-site observation, the Government was relocating prisoners accused of subversive crimes and held under different prison regimes, and concentrating them in certain prisons in the country. These prisons included Villa Devoto and Caseros in the federal capital; Unit 9 in La Plata; the military jail of Magdalena in the Province of Buenos Aires; Rawson prison in the Province of Chubut; and Resistencia prison in the Province of Chaco. These official places of detention, as will be noted below, were visited by the Commission, along with other prisons which, according to the Commission’s information, were intended solely for common prisoners. The Commission also visited the “Resocialization Institute”.
4. On its visits to the prisons or detention centers, the Commission conducted eyewitness inspections of the wings reserved for common prisoners and talked with them; the Commission was able to determine that the conditions and the regime to which they are subjected is considerably superior to the conditions and the regime under which those detained for reasons of public order (l’ordre public), or national security are held.
Generally speaking the Commission used the following procedure in its visits to prisons and other legal centers of detention: a. conversations with the authorities of the penal center, asking questions, listening to explanations, and receiving documents; b. overall inspection of prisons and facilities; c. inspection of the wings for common prisoners, and conversations with some of them; d. group interviews, wing by wing, with prisoners detained for reasons related to public order or national security; e. individual interviews with a specific number of prisoners detained for reasons related to public order or national security, on whom the Commission had background information and whose case number is registered in the Commission, and f. interviews with prisoners detained for reasons related to public order or national security, who were selected, on the spot, at the suggestion of the Commission, by the prisoners in each wing, so that they could raise general issues on behalf of the people for whom they were speaking.
During these interviews, both the group interviews and the individual talks, the Commission clearly explained the purposes of the visit, and its humanitarian objectives; it collected data on the legal status of the detainees, on the health, the food, the prison conditions and other aspects, and stressed that the conversations should be totally frank and truthful, and that the Argentine Government had committed itself to seeing that no reprisals of any type would be taken as result of the on-site observation.9
The Commission’s assessment of each of the detention facilities visited is given below:
a. Villa Devoto prison
5. This prison is located in the capital city of Buenos Aires. It is a large building with spacious facilities of various kinds, which was constructed, according to information received, in 1927. The Commission visited this prison for several hours, and spoke both with the authorities and with the detainees. It is intended for common prisoners, and for female detainees accused of subversive crimes.
Villa Devoto has the country’s major prison hospital; the Commission visited the confinement room, the surgical operating theater, the X-ray room, the gynecological consulting room, and the medical files containing the clinical histories of the prisoners. There is a primary school for common prisoners who have not completed the sixth grade, as well as special concrete patios and a chapel for religious services for the prisoners.
The women accused of subversive crimes are housed in wings that are totally separate from the sector for common prisoners. Most of the women are at the disposal of the Executive (PEN), some case histories are still open and at the disposal of the Executive, while a smaller number have been sentenced by the regular or military courts and are also at the disposal of the Executive.
The reports furnished by the prison authorities indicated that initially there were many pregnant women, and that the children were turned over to family members, or in cases where there were no available family members, the judge of the juvenile court intervened to have them placed in special centers.
The detainees are held in different cellblocks, according to the regime under which they are placed. System 1 is the most severe and to come under regime 2 or regime 3, certain conduct requirements must be met. There are so called punishment or emergency cells, which are located in the basement, and are very narrow, where those being punished for what the authorities of the penal institution consider a serious breach, are kept totally incommunicado for up to thirty days. One of the prison authorities explained that, in practice, they are kept in such cells for an average term of up to twelve days. The cells are damp and those being punished are given only a light mattress to sleep on at night.
The Commission observed various types of cells at this prison. There are large cells in which several detainees are kept collectively and are allowed to do some cooking. The detainees who are under the strictest regime are in solitary confinement cells. The Commission inspected Cell Block Nº 2, which at that time had 23 cells with a total of 83 detainees. These cells measure approximately 2.5 x 3.5 and contain crudely constructed bunk beds. They are very narrow and are entirely closed off by heavy doors with no openings onto the respective inner passage. Some of these were opened at the request of the Commission. There is a latrine at the floor level and the Commission observed incommunicado detainees eating on the floor. According to their detention regime, the detainees are allowed to receive visits from their families, with whom they may speak through grills that permit no physical contact, and they are allowed to write letters to their families sporadically and to read a limited number of censored books and magazines.
From the statements given by the detainees, the Commission concluded that the diet is poor and that they had been given a special meal on the day of the Commission’s visit; medical attention was described as regular, although at times limited to dispensing tranquilizers, and there is no preventive health care; prior to the visit of the Commission some television sets and sewing machines had been provided; the detainees are allowed no physical exercise or sports, and spend 19 hours a day in their cells; they come from different centers and transferred from one place to another; some were considered to have disappeared, or their husbands, fathers or brothers have disappeared, in some cases the entire family; in other cases, their husbands, companions, brother or other family members are detained in other prisons in Argentina, some have requested the option of leaving the country which has repeatedly been denied to them; a high percentage of those who were interviewed, between 70 and 75 percent, were tortured during the first phase of their detention; some cases were dismissed but the individuals remain in detention at the disposition of the Executive (PEN); they are punished by being placed in the punishment cells for trivial infractions such as sewing, or because they are found to have fruit peels from mandarins for example, which the prison authorities claim they use to make fermented drinks.
In the lists furnished by the prison authorities the names of six male detainees charged with involvement in subversive activities appeared, although presumably only women were detained at Villa Devoto for activities of this nature. In view of this, before concluding its visit to the prison, the Commission asked to interview these six inmates. The prison authorities stated that two were no longer there; Oscar Luke had been transferred to a psychiatric hospital, Unidad 20, because he was suffering from schizophrenia, and Osvaldo Cambiaso, a prisoner classified as special by the International Red Cross, who had been detained for some time in Rawson, had been transferred the day before because of serious illness to the Ramos Mejía Hospital in the capital. On the same day the Commission visited the prison, Cambiaso’s mother informed the Commission that she had gone to the Ramos Mejía Hospital and had been told that her son was not there; however, a day later, the woman informed the Commission that she had found her son in the above-mentioned hospital. The four other men were interviewed in private by the Commission: Benjamín Taub, owner of the Hotel Liberty of Buenos Aires, who had been in the hospital for twenty months while his wife was detained in Villa Devoto prison, during which time he was not allowed to see her, and whose son was detained in Caseros prison; the Commission noted that he was bordering on insanity; Felleri Vogelius, director and owner of the magazine “Crisis”, had suffered a heart attack and was experiencing severe chest pains; Mario Medina, a former Congressman, and Héctor Matthews, sentenced to 16 years in prison, who stated that he had received good medical attention. In response to a question of the Commission, the prison authorities stated that these men were in Villa Devoto temporarily, and were going to be transferred to another detention center, in contradiction to some of the statements of the men who were interviewed.
b. Caseros prison
6. This prison is located in the city of Buenos Aires, and has a capacity for 1,860 detainees in a unicellular system, that is, each detainee has his own cell with sanitary facilities. The Commission inspected this prison and was able to verify that it meets all the necessary requirements of modern penal standards. It is clear and hygienic, has satisfactory medical and diet services, and also meets the technical requirements for carrying out the purpose for which it was built.
The Caseros prison opened on April 23, 1979, following the completion of a 1960 project under the supervision of the National Commission of Penitentiaries.10
It consists of several floors where the detainees are held. Due to the design of the building, open air activities are not possible, and for this reason it has large rooms for physical exercise, which the prisoners use twice a day for recreation. In the basement there is a large kitchen, where special diets for the prisoners were posted.
Rules for visiting the detainees are set forth in special regulations issued by the military government for reasons of national security, physical contact with the visitor is not allowed, conversations being permitted only through grills. The Director of the prison described it as a maximum security center. The hospital provides dental service, the reading of books is allowed, and the Commission observed that certain books may be exchanged among prisoners.
The Commission visited Caseros twice. It spoke at length with the prison authorities and held individual and collective interviews with the detainees. The following can be concluded by the statements made by the detainees: that there are some detainees who are ill as a consequence of prolonged imprisonment in various detention centers, one example being a detainee who has lost 25% of his vision, who has no hearing in one ear and suffers from heart problems; that the detainees have not been mistreated in the prison, except for punishments called for by the disciplinary system; that they consider the treatment in this prison to be better than that in others where they had been held; that medical attention is not entirely sufficient nor is the diet fully satisfactory; that their reading material is censored and that, in fact, among the books which are prohibited are those of Pablo Neruda; that a high percentage of the detainees were tortured while interrogated at other detention centers; that many of the detainees have repeatedly been denied requests to exercise the right of option; that there are several foreign detainees accused of subversion; that some have already completed their sentences but remain in detention as a result of being placed at the disposition of the Executive (PEN); that in 1978 some detainees were placed in punishment cells for having spoken with delegates of the International Red Cross who visited them; that the prison regime for those accused of subversive acts in Argentina has been transformed to physically and mentally destroy those prisoners; that one prisoner while in Sierra Chica prison was left in a cell for seven days with a gun wound in his leg, but that he was later operated on in the hospital of that prison; that the new Prison Regulations are not fully obeyed, and because of this, in some cases, the situation has worsened; and that specifically with regard to Caseros prison, the general complaint is lack of sun, air, exercise and sports, as well as the limited recreation hours, which consist of an hour and a half in the morning and an hour and a half in the afternoon.
c. Unit 9 of La Plata
7. Unit 9 is a men’s prison located in the city of La Plata, and in which most of the detainees are held for reasons of public order or national security. Some have been tried or sentenced by military tribunals and others by the regular judicial system, while the majority are held at the disposition of the Executive (PEN).
The detainees are held in small cells, generally two persons in each, and the cells are located in separate blocks, each block containing approximately 60 persons. Placement of prisoners in the various blocks is according to their records and conduct, for which reason the various regimes are dissimilar. Indeed, while some have the right to read newspapers and books, to have visits with their families, and to remain outdoors for longer periods of time, others have been denied such elementary rights.
The Commission visited Unit 9 twice. It extensively inspected its facilities and interviewed approximately 100 detainees during several hours. Furthermore, the Commission held extensive conversations on the prison conditions with the authorities.
The following can be inferred from the interviews the Commission held with individuals detained for reasons of public order or national security: that the prison is relatively satisfactory although the prisoners are kept enclosed for twenty hours each day; that, in general, they have neither books nor newspapers and when these are available they are censored; that following the visit of the International Red Cross, some prisoners were punished in reprisal; that a high percentage of the detainees state that they were tortured in centers in which they were previously detained; that some of the detainees are allowed one day a week to participate in sports and that they have two hours of recreation in the morning and two hours in the afternoon; that some of them have discovered that the block in which they are kept is called the Death Block and they state that it holds prisoners who have been detained for subversive activities and barbarously tortured and beaten, and that some died, while according to the authorities they tried to escape; that the disciplinary system includes punishment for trivial infractions such as having a loose button or for hanging a towel in front of a window; that the prisoners are held in different blocks according to their classification; that there are blocks where treatment is more severe, blocks of intermediate treatment and some that are considered to be privileged; that some prisoners have been in what they call concentration camps, for example, the radio broadcast building in Provincia, near the Olmos prison, La Perla in Córdoba and Los Andes in the Province of Mendoza; that in other centers around the country they met persons who soon after disappeared, that 40 Uruguayans had been kidnapped and were being held at the police headquarters in Quilmes; that there is both physical and moral abuse of prisoners in the punishment cells and this includes cold water baths, but that in recent months these cases have been very sporadic and the situation has tended to improve, including the provision of adequate clothing for the various seasons of the year; that some prisoners are seriously ill and have not received the necessary medical attention.
d. Prisons in Olmos
8. The Commission visited two jails in Olmos in the Province of Buenos Aires, identified as Unit 1 for men and Unit 8 for women.
The large majority of the inmates in Unit 1 in Olmos are common criminals and it is one of the penitentiary centers with the highest number of inmates in the country. It has a central prison hospital with several medical professionals in various fields of specialization. With regard to those being detained for reasons of public order or national security, the Commission interviewed a prisoner in the hospital, who is being detained at the order of the Executive (PEN), without trial, charged with union activities, who had been brought a few days earlier from Unit 9 in La Plata. The Commission noted that he suffered from serious nervous problems. The prison has twelve blocks and relatively good air and ventilation facilities.
The Commission inspected Unit 8 extensively, the athletic field, dormitories of varying sizes with four or six bed in each, collective bathrooms, the library, the school, and a block for mothers, who remain with their children until the child reaches the age of three. The Commission spoke with some of the detainees who are being held for common crimes, and found only one detainee accused of subversive activities, with whom it spoke in private. This woman was pregnant and had been taken to Unit 8 to have the child, following which she would be sent to the Villa Devoto prison in Buenos Aires.
The Commission observed that, in general, the prison conditions in this Unit are satisfactory, and that the professional personnel who render services to the detainees treat them efficiently and humanely.
e. Magdalena prison
9. This is a military facility located in the Province of Buenos Aires with 240 inmates. The detainees are members of the military who have committed offenses of a military nature and who, during their detention, participate in learning a trade to prepare them for a normal life, administrative tasks, agricultural work such as gardening, and some manufacturing activities.
The conditions in Magdalena are those of a model detention center; it has spacious and comfortable facilities including an athletic field, a room for movies, press, library, various kinds of workshops, a system allowing visitors every weekend, support from the clergy and a diet which is considered to be the best of any of the penal centers in the country, as well as an efficient medical service. Each block has its own dining room and bathroom, and the doors of the individual cells are generally left open.
Detainees being held for common crimes, or for reasons other than those of public order or national security, have access to the athletic field and enjoy other privileges, among which is permission to leave the facility provided certain conditions are met, a privilege which is not granted to the other class of prisoners. The Commission interviewed this other class of prisoners, and was able to verify that they are receiving generally satisfactory treatment; specifically, in this group the Commission spoke with Jorge Taiana, a medical doctor and university professor and former Minister of Culture and Education, with Diego Sebastián Ibáñez, who had been Secretary General of the petroleum union; and with Julio César Perlinger, military officer, and Jorge Cepernic, former Governor of the Province of Santa Cruz, both detained for several years at the disposition of the Executive.
Doctor Taiana is being held in a very large cell with its own bathroom and has been detained for over three years pursuant to the Institutional Act of June 18, 1976. During his imprisonment he has dedicated himself to writing, as he is an internationally recognized scientist. In his conversation with the Commission, he put forward his opinions on the situation of the country and its political development. He has a son who has been detained in Rawson prison. He said that he had not been tortured, that it is necessary that the rule be re-established, and that he shares the opinion of the writer Ernesto Sábato that “there is no violation of human rights that can be justified.”
f. Prison of Córdoba
10. The Commission visited the eleven blocks of this institution which are arranged in a circular form. Each block is divided into cells which open onto a common area where the inmates may spend certain hours. The block and cells that the Commission visited were generally clean.
This prison has an infirmary with an operating room and X-ray equipment, and also a dental clinic. The prisoners with whom the Commission spoke indicated that the infirmary services were good, but they complained of the diet. The Commission inspected the kitchen and pantry which were clean and neat, and the meat had been put away in refrigerated areas. The prison also has a small library. Furthermore, in a separate area, it has approximately 15 special rooms with private bathrooms which are used for family visits. There is a block set aside for minors in which there were approximately 150 inmates between 16 and 19 years of age.
In spite of the age of the building and certain material limitations, the system practiced by the current management of the prison includes some innovations recommended by modern penologists, such as:
i) permission to periodically receive wives or girlfriends for an entire day in one of the special rooms where they are afforded privacy;
ii) the separation of homosexual inmates from other inmates.
iii) Services of psychologists, social workers and priests.
During its inspection, the Commission noted the existence of 40 prisoners called “special prisoners”, whose names did not appear on the official list that had been given to it previously. This list showed some prisoners to be at the disposition of the Executive, and others at the disposition of Military Tribunals or military or federal judges, although in some cases, no charges had been brought against them. There were three prisoners identified simply as being at the disposition of “Area 31”, in reference to the military zone. Many of them have been in detention since 1974 or 1975 without being sentenced. Only one of those forty prisoners was serving a sentence. These special prisoners are subject to a much stricter regime for receiving visitors.
The Commission was allowed to inspect block 14, the newest block, without restrictions, where detainees accused of subversive activities or “special prisoners” are held. This section consists of individual cells, which during the day are left open, thus allowing the inmates to speak with each other in the common area between the cells. The cells were clean, but they are small and uncomfortable, and their windows had been sealed in such a way that the prisoners could not see outside, but the inmates are allowed out in the sun, in the inner courtyard of the prison during certain hours.
All of the men who are included in the group referred to as “special prisoners” indicated their desire to speak with the Commission and were heard in private. Their statements on harassment and other violations are reflected in the corresponding section of this Chapter, but none of them claimed that he had been mistreated in the prison, except for not being allowed to receive magazines, newspapers or other reading material.
Furthermore, the Commission visited block 13 where the women belonging to the group of “special prisoners” are held, two of whom had been incommunicado, in an effort on the part of the authorities to keep them from the Commission’s inspection. The Commission, however, finally succeeded in speaking in private with all the detainees in this section, after overcoming obstacles that impeded access to the cells where these two women were being held.
g. Campo La Rivera in Córdoba
11. During the stay of the Commission in Córdoba, it visited the military prison called Campo La Rivera, which was mentioned in many of the denunciations as an interrogation and torture center during the first months of the military government. The Commission spoke with the prisoners in a closed patio surrounded with high walls.
The prisoners appeared to be well and made no serious complaints, and most of them are being detained for military offenses. However, some of those interviewed mentioned that at one time civilian prisoners were held there. One of those being detained is a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and was in detention for having refused to do obligatory military service.
h. Rawson prison
12. Rawson prison is located in a place of the same name, in the Province of Chubut, in Patagonia, in the south of Argentina, approximately 2,000 kilometers from Buenos Aires. It is considered the strictest maximum security prison in Argentina, in which detainees charged with involvement in subversive activities are held, whom the government considers to be the most dangerous.
The Commission visited this prison for several hours, and spoke first with the authorities who stated: that there are 279 subversive prisoners being held and 65 common prisoners; that the subversives are kept in individual cells, and are not allowed to work; that those who have been imprisoned for subversive activities have been tried, sentenced, or are at the disposition of the Executive; that they have two hours of recreation each day, which is taken in turns by the various blocks, and that at 8.00 o’clock in the evening the lights are turned out and silence must be observed; that visits are governed by regulations pursuant to Decree Nº 780, which permit visits of one hour for six consecutive days every 45 days, and this procedure applies to prisoners who have families who live more than 300 kilometers from the prison; that heating is provided by small stoves placed in the central passageway of each block and that in the middle of winter the temperature reaches two, three and even eight degrees below zero.
This penitentiary was originally a penal colony, and in 1974 it was set-aside for prisoners charged with crimes of subversion. The Commission inspected the various facilities of the prison, including those for common prisoners, who are kept in large collective cells. The Commission noted that the disciplinary regime is stricter for the subversives and that they are kept in individual cells. They are kept in eight different blocks containing from 35 to 44 cells each. Each of these was inspected by the Commission, which verified that in the cells, which are very narrow, there are no sanitary facilities with the exception of “chamber pots” and that the prisoners are not permitted to engage in sports, although they are allowed some books, and the local newspaper.
Rawson prison is totally isolated, built in an area of constant strong winds. The blocks of the prison can be reached by passing through numerous heavy iron doors covered with bars, chains and locks. The prison authorities informed the Commission that prisoners are allowed to play games such as dominoes, but not in cells or in the blocks, but on small boards nailed to low posts on the patio, where the wind is very strong. In spite of this, the Commission noted that there were typewritten announcements in the blocks of the prison stating that as of August 20, 1979 “games” were prohibited.
The Commission held collective interviews, by cellblocks, with the prisoners, many of whom were pale and emaciated. The Commission also held individual interviews with a substantial number of prisoners, chosen for this purpose, at the suggestion of the Commission, to represent their respective cellblocks, in one of the patios of the prison, where, at one point, the emotions of the prisoners were translated into tears and into shaking.
The prisoners pointed out the following situations to the Commission that there has been no torture at Rawson, but prisoners are kept in solitary confinement for periods lasting as long as a few weeks; that physical and mental deterioration is caused primarily by the circumstances of confinement which derive from the characteristics of the institution itself and the disciplinary system used therein; that the prisoners are not allowed to have portable radios or newspapers and are often treated aggressively, insultingly and sharply, for pretexts as unlikely as not having appropriately put away their clothing; that during the winter the prisoners suffer from the severe cold; that the prisoners are kept in individual cells for as long as 15 consecutive hours with no activity, staring at the walls of the narrow cells while lying on beds; that almost all of them were tortured during their first months of detention during interrogation, and that they have been imprisoned in various facilities throughout the country; that they have been kept in secret detention centers and that they have close relatives who are also imprisoned; that in some places, such as in Córdoba and La Plata, they discovered that dozens of prisoners were shot; that medical services are not entirely satisfactory, in some cases such services are provided through a grill and not in an examining room, and there is no psychiatric treatment; that meals are very poor in terms of quality and quantity; that some have repeatedly been denied a request to exercise the right of option to leave the country; that until some time ago smoking was restricted but that now they may communicate more with prisoners from other cell blocks; that both in Rawson and other official detention centers where they have been held, the daily inspection procedure is humiliating.
i. Resistencia prison
13. The Commission visited Resistencia prison in the city of the same name in the Province of Chaco, classified as a maximum security prison center.
This prison is located some distance from the city of Resistencia, and consists of a kind of walled city with a protected area of over approximately a thousand meters from the site of the building. As one approaches the installation, one finds small buildings at some distance along the way, and wire fences that impede access to the prison from places other than those protected by the above-mentioned observation and control building.
This penitentiary is built on old structures that have been recently remodeled. Within these buildings the detainees have been separated into two sections: one for common prisoners and one for prisoners charged with crimes of subversion. Two new cellblocks have been added to the prison which house both categories of detainees. The buildings show signs of having recently been painted and repaired.
The Commission spoke with prisoners being held for common crimes and interviewed those being held for reasons of public order or national security. Among the problems raised, the prisoners complained of poor diet and lack of medical attention and sanitary facilities, as well as about prolonged periods of enclosure, from 18 to 20 hours daily; the prohibition of engaging in sports and of receiving newspapers, listening to the radio or watching television. Permission for visits from family members is difficult to obtain, and when allowed, they are held in closed rooms impeding physical contact. Visitors are inspected by the prison guards. Prisoners are allowed to send one letter each week and no communication is permitted between one block and another. The cells are small and damp. Treatment of the prisoners is very strict and punishment is imposed for trivial infractions.
j. Resocialization Institute (Instituto de Resocialización)
14. During its on-site observation, the Commission visited the Resocialization Institute, identified as Unit 21, which began operation in June 1977.
Members of the Commission were transported by military helicopter to the site of this special detention facility near Buenos Aires.
During the first part of the visit, which took several hours, the Commission exchanged views with the Director, the psychologist, the lawyer, the chaplain, and the social worker, of this detention center.
The Director explained the functions of the Institute, its main objectives and the activities of the detainees. There were thirty detainees, fourteen women and sixteen men. Among these, there were three married couples, as well as four children, sons and daughters of the detainees. The detainees are persons who have been sentenced by the Military Tribunals. They have surrendered voluntarily and therefore their sentences have been reduced to one third; this mitigation is contemplated in Argentine penal law, notably in the law issued by the present government which specifies that such mitigation of sentence is to be granted in cases where subversives surrender themselves voluntarily to the authorities. The Director further explained that the resocialization process was instituted by the Argentine government upon learning that there were persons who had voluntarily ceased engaging in subversive activities. The Government consequently issued a proclamation for them to turn themselves in; the basic objective of the resocialization plan was to reintegrate them into society according to the Government’s guidelines.
The Institute’s psychologist explained that therapy is both individual and collective; the detainees have contact visits with members of their families once a week, on weekends from 9 to 3 pm, and during this period, they can interact fully with their families within the facility. For those whose families live more than 300 kilometers away, there is a special regime which allows them three consecutive days per month. The length of time in detention in the institution is determined by the individual’s sentence. The psychologist indicated that the objective is that persons who regret having been involved in subversive activities be given a way out. The institution offers several advantages, there is a minimum security, the guards are not armed, and the regime is mainly one of self-discipline. He mentioned the case history of an individual who had been released from the facility, who upon leaving, was put to work by the Army to assist his readaptation to society. Among the new projects envisioned in the near future, there is one in which the detainees, who are only a few courses short of finishing their studies, may take these courses inside the institution, and pass the respective examinations, so that at the end of their sentence, they can fully reintegrate themselves into society. The psychologist went on to explain that, in practice, at the beginning, there is an attempt to individualize the approach, analyzing the conflicting areas of the individual’s personality, and based on this, to proceed with the work of reeducation.
The Commission inspected the facility, visiting first the mess halls and sewing shops and then the men’s wing, the women’s wing, the women’s dormitory, the children’s dormitory, located next to their mothers’, and the three bedrooms for the married couples.
Thereafter the Commission held lengthy discussions with the detainees. Those persons wishing to speak alone were also allowed to do so. Among the issues raised the following merit special emphasis: in general, they are well treated, they receive newspapers and magazines on Sundays; there is concern among some that they are not yet allowed to continue with their studies; that their situation is really exceptional but is not indicative of the general situation in the country; that most of them are interested in obtaining parole, this was phrased as “we want freedom of movement.” According to their explanations, this is not possible for those who have been sentenced by Special Military Tribunals according to the current legislation; that the psychological and medical treatment is sporadic, and that they do not receive any legal assistance. Finally, they indicated their concern that since they were sentenced by the Military Tribunals, they have been disenfranchised for life, that is, they have lost their fundamental rights, making them doubt the effectiveness of their reintegration into society once their sentence has been completed.
The discussions with the detainees were extensive, and they were told what the objective and purpose of the Commission’s visit was, and they in turn expressed their great hopes in it. Most of the inmates did not give their names, and some spoke about members of their families who are among the disappeared.
The Director said that there was only one such center in the country; and the Commission was unable to identify the thirty persons who are confined in this institution.
D. Unlawful Use of Force and Torture
1. Both before and during the on-site observation, the Commission had been receiving reports, testimonies and declarations pointing to the practice of unlawful use of force and torture in Argentina, in clear violation of the fundamental rights of man, the Argentine Constitution, and the aims proclaimed by the Military Government Junta of observing Christian morality, the national tradition and the dignity of the Argentine people.
The unlawful use of force and torture appear to have been carried out mainly during the interrogation phase, according to complaints presented on behalf of detainees in Argentine prisons as well on behalf of persons who disappeared or who have been kidnapped.
2. There are many ways in which unlawful physical force and psychological and mental torture were practiced in special interrogation centers commonly known as chupaderos (“roughing-up centers”) and in some cases, in the prisons. These torture practices, in many cases, were carried out over several months of interrogation sessions. The Commission has analyzed the large volume of testimony presented about these practices, and has selected the following illustrative examples:
a) Brutal beating of inmates, which on several occasions has resulted in broken bones and partial disablement; in the case of pregnant women it has caused miscarriages and according to some allegations, has even resulted in the death of several persons. This type of beating is carried out with different kinds of metal, rubber, wooden and other weapons, and with fists and kicks. Denunciations have been made claiming rupture of the bladder, fractured ribs and sternum, or other serious internal injuries;
b) Confinement in punishment cells for several weeks, for trivial infractions, under conditions of desperate isolation and with the application of coldwater baths;
c) The chaining of inmates to the headboards of beds, or to the seats of airplanes, or other vehicles in which they are transferred from one place to another, while being subject to beatings and insults;
d) Mock executions, and, in some cases, the actual execution of inmates in the presence of other prisoners and relatives, as has occurred according to denunciations in Córdoba, Salta and in the Death Wing in La Plata, among others;
e) Immersion by means of the so-called submarine, where the victim’s head is covered with a cloth hood and intermittently forced into a vessel containing water, in order to induce asphyxiation as a means of obtaining information from the prisoner;
f) The systematic application of the so-called picana eléctrica (electric rod), whereby the victim is tied to the metal parts of the bed and is subjected to currents of high voltage electricity on various parts of the body, such as the head, the temples, the mouth, the hands, the legs, the feet, the breasts and genitalia; furthermore the body is doused with water so as better to conduct the electrical charges. According to complaints received, in some cases the picana is applied while a physician checks on the victim’s condition after each series of “shocks” administered;
g) Burning various parts of the inmates body with cigarettes until they are covered with ulcerous wounds;
h) The application of pins and other similar pointed instruments under the finger and toenails;
i) The threat or consummation of rape of both women and men;
j) Placing prisoners in pens with vicious dogs trained by the captors, until they are almost dismembered;
k) Keeping prisoners prostrate and hooded for several weeks, with hands and feet tied while they are beaten;
l) Suspending inmates from the ceiling with their hands handcuffed or tied; they are tied to metal or wooden bars, and their feet are kept a few inches off the floor, which is covered with pieces of broken glass. There are also cases where the victims are suspended from their hands or feet, causing fractures of their hips or other bones;
m) The victims are kept for many hours in a standing position;
n) Giving drugs, serum or injections to detainees while they are unconscious as a result of the lengthy torture;
o) Meticulous searches of the prisoners, abusing all parts of the body, causing the corresponding humiliation;
p) The use of the so-called bucket, which consists of immersing the feet in very cold and then very hot water for long periods of time.
3. In order better to appreciate some of the torture methods used by the military or police agents, some excerpts taken from testimony presented by torture victims before the Commission during its on-site observation or prior to the visit are quoted:
4. Case 2410 – Professor Alfredo BRAVO, Secretary General of the Confederation of Education Workers and Co-Chairman of the Permanent Assembly for Human Rights, reported as follows:
On September 8, 1977, I was taken from the school where I was teaching, on Rivadavia street in Buenos Aires. I was told that I had to go with them (the people who came for him). I baulked, demanded identification, but was taken to the Oriuro Bridge, where they got out of the car and enacted a mock execution. Then they blindfolded me and began to subject me to physical mistreatment, then again, by car they took me to a place called “the club”, which is where people arrested by the Federal Police are taken. The prison was narrow; they took away everything I had; the next day was the first interrogation session and they applied the electric prod. During my days as a disappeared, from September 8 to 29, they interrogated me on how the Permanent Assembly for Human Rights got information out of the country, who its members were, and where it obtained its money. During the last session, they wanted to know about the Confederation of Argentine Educators. During those days, I received various torture treatments, the main one being the “bucket”, where they place your feet in ice-cold water, when they begin to burn they take them out of the icy water and put them in hot water. As a result of this, I am still uncoordinated when I walk; the burns leave no marks. Aside from the “bucket”, there is the “crucifixion,” where they suspend you by the arms; you are not mistreated constantly, but rather, they beat you and then they leave and let you hang. Your wrists are tied with pieces of cloth so that there will be no marks, and the weight of your body makes you sag. I was subjected to the collective picana (prod) or the “rake,” which has two or three prongs which were placed on my gums and genitals. After I reappeared I was taken to Unit 9 in La Plata. When I was transferred to the interrogation center, I was placed on the floor of a pickup truck which had other bodies on it, both men and women. I was kept without food or water and in a state of psychological torture when they would tell me “today it’s your turn, you will be shot.” The torture procedure is very scientific. They moved us frequently from one place to another, and we always were together, never alone. Mostly the people being tortured lost consciousness very rapidly. On June 16, 1978, I was paroled, but on August 29 of the same year they tried to kidnap me again, which fact I denounced to the Ministry of the Interior. One month after this denunciation was made, I was dismissed from my job.
In prison I had a bed on which I could not lie unless I was told to do so, and if I lay down earlier they would take us to an icy room called “the pigs” (chanchos). The “pigs” (chanchos) is a very small, cement room; at 5 am, you are made to get up and you can’t sit down, you have to walk or to stand; I stayed there for five days. I lost 52 kilos while I was in detention. I was blindfolded and handcuffed the whole time, I did not eat anything for thirteen days, and once in a while, I was given a little glass of water; when I appeared in the Fifth Police Headquarters, I was handed my suitcase with a description of what it contained and they made my son sign a receipt for it. When I was let out, they gave me certain rehabilitation treatments; they fixed my ribs, etc. If a man survives 13 days of almost constant torture, it has to be because he has faith or some inner strength that enables him to survive. Many people return with tics, others with depression; some were given the drug “mandrax” during their imprisonment, then they were taken off it, and they became “squealers” (buchón), which is what they call people who listen to prisoners’ conversations and then inform the guards. At one time during torture, one of them came up to me and asked me why I defended subversives. I replied that I only defended the law and the constitution. Then this fellow told me that in this fight there was always a margin for error.
The Commission received the following reply from the Argentine Government:
In this regard, the information on this individual shows that on 12.21.78, that is, prior to the date on which the Commission provided the Argentine Government with additional information, BRAVO ceased to be under the jurisdiction of the EXECUTIVE and was consequently released.
Furthermore, with regard to the additional information provided by the Commission with regard to the case of Mr. Alfredo BRAVO, the Argentine Government wishes to reaffirm, once again, that when it keeps a person in detention at the disposal of the EXECUTIVE it does so in exercise of the powers expressly provided in Article 23 of the Constitution, keeping foremost in mind the need to guarantee the majority of the population the right to live in peace, liberty and dignity, a population which for more than a decade has been affected by the constant and permanent aggression of terrorist and subversive elements; and these detentions are not, as is sometimes alleged, carried out for “ideological reasons,” but are based on the need to protect Argentine society from potentially dangerous elements.
Furthermore, the Argentine Government denies that activities with regard to Mr. Alfredo BRAVO constitute any violation of human rights, but rather, that they fall within the present legal procedures.
The Commission is continuing its consideration of the present case.
5. Case 2502 – Mr. Jacobo Timerman, former editor of the La Opinión newspaper. He made the following statement to the Commission:
I was arrested at gunpoint at three o’clock in the morning. They stole jewelry, etc. I was handcuffed and they put a gun to my head. For one month, I was subjected to daily interrogations of up to 16 hours. Naked, blindfolded, tapiado (head covered), tied to a canvas cot, they wet my body and applied electrical currents. There was a physician who during the torture continually took my pulse, and another put lead in my mouth when I shouted with the pain of the shocks. My head hurt more than my genitals.
After two hours of torture, they started the formal interrogation. I was in a very narrow, humid cell, and they did not allow me to go to the toilet. They kept me on my knees for several days. Then they took me to the federal Police, and then somewhere else, where I was handcuffed to my bed, all of this between April and August 1977.
I was held as a disappeared person in a place called Puerto Vasco between Buenos Aires and La Plata and in another place called Caty de Martínez; in this latter place, I was with Rafael Perrota, a newspaperman, editor of Crónica, who never reappeared. I saw him for the first time in July 1977. By mistake, they put him in a cell with me; he was insane. Perrota’s family paid a lot in ransom money, but he never appeared.
I was tortured by a Comisario (police inspector) and I would be able to identify even the exact place. I think they did not kill me because my captors thought they had “Zion’s Sage” in Argentina.
The Government of Argentina, in a note received by the IACHR on March 27, 1980, with regard to the conditions under which he was detained, states the following:
With regard to the say in which the claimant was detained, it is essential to point out that the house arrest system instituted by Law 21,650 is, without doubt, a form of lessening the restrictions occasioned by the place in which the detention is carried out.
This is so, because otherwise the detention must be effected in any of the prison facilities of the Republic; this obviously causes greater privations, to which TIMERMAN was not subjected, because of what was explained above.
The IACHR is continuing its consideration of this case.
6. Case 4674 – Mr. Sergio Hugo SCHILMAN, student of Economics at the National University of Rosario. The Commission received a denunciation while in Argentina on the arbitrary arrest, mistreatment and torture of Sergio Hugo Schilman, who had been arrested on August 22, 1979 in Rosario, his place of residence, by agents who identified themselves as belonging to Regional Unit II of the provincial police. The Commission also received a copy of the letter which the victim’s father sent to the Commander-in-Chief of the Argentine Army, Lt. Gen. Roberto Eduardo Viola, setting forth the facts, indicating a writ of habeas corpus had been filed as a result of which his son had later been set free, in critical condition; he was transferred to a sanatorium and placed in intensive therapy.
In view of this, the Commission traveled to Rosario on Tuesday, September 18, 1979, where it interviewed the Chief of Regional Unit II of the provincial police, the Commander of the Second Army Corps, and the federal Judge in charge of the legal proceedings with respect to the victim. The Commission held lengthy interviews with Sergio Hugo Schilman, and was able to confirm his precarious state. The pertinent parts of his testimony read as follows:
On Wednesday August 22, we were coming back from a performance at the Moscow Circus, we were returning home, my parents, my sister and brother-in-law and I; we were just about to enter the house, when a large group of people, who had parked a car blocking the entrance to the garage approached; they were not in the car, they were around it and when they saw the car we were returning home in, drive up, they crowded around the door to the house. I saw that one of them identified himself as a member of the Police Information Service. Nobody managed to see his credentials clearly, he just showed it; he asked for papers, I took out mine and when he confirmed that I was Sergio Hugo Schilman, he only detained me. Even though my brother-in-law had no papers on him, and this is not advisable in our country at this time, they did not take him, it seems as though they were looking for me. They put me in their car, three persons came with me; they put my pullover over my head as a hood; tied my hands behind my back, and hid me in the car. I calculate that we drove around for approximately fifteen to twenty minutes, it seemed as though they made several turns; when we got to our destination, with the hood still over my heard, they made me get out of the car along with one of the persons who was driving with us; this individual was very big, he picked me up and carried me up the staircase; it was an office in the eight block of Torrero and San Lorenzo street at the police headquarters; I managed to see this the following day, that is the street, through one of the slits, because the police headquarters takes up an entire block.
They took me upstairs and immediately put me on a table, they took off my clothes, tied me to the table, and struck me several times. One of the first blows broke one of my teeth, and the ensuing blows were to the thorax and abdomen; they then poured lots of water over me and began to make all kinds of threats saying that I must talk; also when I was in the car, the first threat was that they were going to throw me in the river because I was “unpatriotic” (this I believe was their first accusation); they began to apply electric shocks to me, I suppose it must have been the picana (cattle prod), I never experienced anything like it before. Unfortunately I still have many scars from it; at the same time as they applied the cattle prod, which they first used on my armpits, and then further down on much more sensitive areas, my genitals, they hit me; it was a very large group of people apparently judging from the uproar of voices in the room; they hit me over and over, and also slapped me on the ears; gagged me and put soda in my nostrils to prevent me from breathing; they also applied the picana to my mouth and gums, and threatened the same to my palate but didn’t do it. I think that somebody else was also hitting me lightly; I say lightly because of the intensity, they were not hard blows but little ones upon my head; they stopped for five minutes and poured water over me again. At one point they seemed to have thrown crushed ice over me; there was an interval of fifteen to twenty minutes when they apparently left the room to “rest their bodies,” as they said; as a matter of fact, I heard a comment to the effect that “they were getting too hot”; I was blindfolded, but obviously I am never going to forget those voices, especially two or three of them, who pressured me the most to give them I don’t know what kind of information.
Later they were more specific, they gave me the names of certain people who, according to them, had informed on me, and they said that they didn’t know why I did not report on those people (honestly, I did not know them); they accused me of passing out leaflets of solidarity with Nicaragua (I don’t even know the text of such leaflet); apparently another political group in Rosario had published this leaflet and they wanted to attribute it to me; they also said that if I read the pamphlet, a publication that speaks well of solidarity with the Nicaraguan people, I would perhaps be in agreement, but in fact, this was a false accusation and obviously they wanted to involve me in something, to justify, what do I know, this whole disaster; all of this lasted for approximately, I say approximately because I cannot be precise, two hours, with intervals in between. Apparently, they put shorts on me that were not mine, and a pullover without sleeves, which was also not mine, and then they took me to an adjoining room with a bed and left me there.
At noon the following day, I received something from home; a plate of food; this calmed me down a bit because then I knew that both my family and friends were doing something; they had located me at the police headquarters; well, the following night, with some of them, not all, mistreating me, but the same people who had been with me, they took me to make a confession in a room which was, I would say, on a higher floor than the one in which I was in, it was at night, I still couldn’t see, I was blindfolded, they even tried to attack me, insulting me, that would be nothing, but they were sadistic, in ways that could even physically terrify people; well, they made me sign a statement which they fabricated, with some elements that I added that I was… I am, a university student and on more than one occasion have participated in all activities involving defending or seeking a solution to students’ claims, apparently the Information Service knows this. I did not deny this, because I have committed no crime in that sense; what I did wish to make very clear was that as a member of an organization that has respected the suspension of the activities of political parties from 1976 on, I have not engaged in any political activity, and I wished to make this very clear in all my statements.
So, Friday went by; I could not eat anything solid; I spent three days like this, my whole mouth was sore; I wore dentures, which broke. It was very difficult for me to chew and eat anything solid; all I could eat was soft food, which yes, they gave me; even when they saw me like that, with my mouth so sore, I suppose as a result of the burns of the picana, they tried to give me pills so that I could tell everything I knew, which I did, because I really wanted to get out of all this; moreover it was hurting.
So Saturday morning came around, when they took me to the federal Court. They asked me several times: “Have we done anything to you?”; I understood the artful tone of the question and replied: “No, no. All I want is to go home, I don’t want any problems with anybody”; before getting into the car that took me to Court, the same person who saw to it that I didn’t “cut out”, if I might put it that way, that is to say that I didn’t suffocate or have a heart attack or something like that, that same person took me to the federal Court, and before getting into the car again told me to say absolutely nothing; that is when they began to threaten me with attacks on my family.
The Judge said: “You are at the disposal of the federal Court”; all I saw was the face of the judge’s secretary, which made a sign as if to say: “I don’t know.”
Well, they took me back to headquarters; I was stretched out on the bed facing the wall, and first someone came in and told me not to turn around, and again the threats began, he told me that if I knew how to pray, I had better do so because I would never see my family again, that I had opened my mouth, I had denounced them; someone else came in afterwards, who in my opinion was the most cynical, the most violent, and once more I was blindfolded and beaten; I remained blindfolded, I have the impression that their beating me was already an indication of their impotence because they couldn’t hurt me any more, since I had already appeared in Court; in any event, they threatened me again, especially with my family; they were not satisfied with this, they made me stand in a corner as punishment for an hour and a half; afterwards, somebody else came, a guard; these people, I can say, there were two or three, treated me well; at no time did they insult me in any way, several times they offered me something to eat; I believe that it wasn’t done on purpose; I mean while some mistreated me, these people treated me well; apparently, they were simple police officers and they know about everything that happens, but the degree of their responsibility is much less; well, that person came up to me and told me to remove the blindfold; I told him no, because already on two or three occasions they had made me take off the blindfold, and then the person who had blindfolded me had come and beaten me because I did not have it on; he then came up to me, and told me that he was now the Chief guard and (should anything happen) he would go and speak to the Chief, well, I spent all of Saturday and Sunday in bed, in a lot of pain because it was extremely difficult for me to walk; since I was in bed all the time, this didn’t do my muscles any good; so as I said, Saturday and Sunday went by; I had to wait until Monday because they had said that my incommunicado status was until Monday when they would take me from the precinct, which was very dismal; on Saturday afternoon, a doctor came; they took me from where I was to another room next to the one I had been in, the same room where they had done all this to me, but blindfolded, since the person who had the fixation that I should be blindfolded was there. The doctor asked me what the problem was, I did not know the extent of the damage; I only noticed that I had pain in the area of the abdomen and that it was difficult to relieve myself; about a year and a half ago, I had a problem with my gallbladder and I believed that could complicate this; when he explained to me that perhaps my problem of going to the bathroom was due to the “situation”, that is, a problem of nerves because of the situation I was in; the following day, Sunday, another doctor came; from the way he spoke he was not well-coordinated; he asked me what was wrong, I told him the same thing; the person who came with him asked him whether he was going to examine me or not; apparently he had no intention of examining me, he asked the question laughing, as if to say: “How come you are not going to examine him.” He touched me here and asked me if I had pain; I told him, well, I was not in pain but…, he said: “Well, the buscapina antispasmodic medicine, is enough.” I had the prescription for one day; the following day I told the guard to give it to my parents if they came, so that they could buy it for me. They sent me the antispasmodic medicine.
In the afternoon, they took me to a large office where it seemed to me I was in the presence of a high ranking official, but I did not know whom I was speaking with; afterwards, outside, I found out that I had been speaking to the Chief of Police of the Province of Santa Fé, he asked me what the problem was; at that point, especially this eye (was) black and blue, my mouth was sore and I walked with great difficulty; I no longer had a hood over my head; at that point, Monday, they were treating me very well in comparison with previous days; it seemed to me that my family, friends and the lawyers were doing something for me by then, since the change of attitude was noticeable; also it struck me that they should bring me to speak to an important official; I repeated to him that I had a stomach problem, because on Sunday, they had again told me to forget my family, etc.; I said nothing more to him; I did not know to whom I was speaking.
On Tuesday morning, they told me: “Well, we are going to Court.” By that time I felt very sick; very feverish; generally when I have had high fever, I have had the sensation of there being a heavy weight over me, and at that time I was feeling the same thing; at noon they took me to Court where I was informed that I had been released from jail on bond, following payment of a deposit of 150 million pesos; I signed that I had been notified of this; they told me that at 4.30 pm that same day I was to return to the Court to make a report in a calmer atmosphere. At 4.30 pm, I asked them to take me to Court because that is what had been agreed; apparently they did not have the notification that they were to take me; they had to take another detained person first; that fellow was brought in and was there for two hours; I wasn’t feeling well, and was waiting and waiting; when it was my turn to go in, I told the Judge’s secretary that physically I couldn’t take it any more, and asked whether we could do it some other time; I asked whether it would have validity, because if it wouldn’t at some other time, I would stay; he told me that if I did not have the strength, we would leave it. So they took me back to headquarters, because apparently they had to turn me over from the Information Section to the Alcaldía (prison warden’s office) and they would have to release me shortly afterwards. This was from 4.30 until 6.30 pm; I had to wait for fifteen or twenty more minutes; then they took me, shortly after 10 o’clock; I came out on the arm of the person at the Alcaldía who was in charge of me, because he had undertaken to turn me over to my father personally.
In the interview with the Commission held with the Minister of the Interior, Mr. Schilman’s case, which has been investigated by the Commission, was brought up so that those responsible might be punished under the law, and that acts of this nature might not be repeated, so that the lives of citizens might be protected. The Commission also noted that the respective judge had declared himself without jurisdiction in the case. The Minister of the Interior said that the judge was empowered to intervene in cases involving the unlawful use of force, and in not doing so he had not acted properly. The Minister offered to conduct a thorough investigation of the matter.
On December 7, 1979, the Government of Argentina submitted information to the Commission on this case. It states the following:
1. The files on the investigation of alleged unlawful use of force against the defendant were initially filed in federal Court Nº 3 in the city of Rosario. 2. That Court declared itself without jurisdiction to hear the case because the commission of the act was attributed to police officers under the control of the military authorities (Law 21.267, Art. 1) because of which and following a legal opinion, the Commander of the Army Corps Number II ordered summary proceedings before a Military Tribunal September 5, 1979. 3. Since then, it has been confirmed that an unlawful use of force was in fact used against the defendant and the identity of those allegedly responsible has been determined. Those responsible are now in preventive detention. 4. Since to date the pre-trial hearing has not been completed, and the summary proceedings are in secret session (Art. 184 of the Code of Military Justice), it is premature to issue an opinion on the results of this stage of the process. It is therefore advised to await the final hearing by the examining magistrate under the provisions of Article 328 of the above code, which, it is felt is imminent, since it shall be determined on the basis of that hearing whether or not there are sufficient grounds to try those under investigation before a plenary session of the Military Court. However, it can be said on the basis of the available information that the eight police officers in the Province of Santa Fe now in detention will be tried shortly by the Military Tribunal and that, if appropriate, sanctions will be applied. The Argentine Government will continue to report on the progress of the case.
7. Case 2450 – Rev. Patrick RICE, a catholic priest of Irish nationality. He presented his case history in a denunciation before the Commission:
On Monday, October 12, 1976, as I was walking with Fátima Edelmira Cabrera, an Argentine citizen, 21 years old, living in the Villa Soldati apartments on Mariano Acosta, who had come to me for help because her younger sister was ill, we were stopped at 8 o’clock in the evening by a man with a pistol, who got out of an old car. He threatened us, fired at the ground and asked us for our documents. After we had given them to him, he fired into the air and another man came to help him. They put us into the car and took us to the federal Police Headquarters of Villa Soldati. Hoods were immediately put over our heads. They took down all the information about me, and when I asked them why they had detained me, they said that they would see. They checked all my clothes, put handcuffs on me, sat me down on a chair and began to beat me about my head, face, testicles, and they stamped on my feet. When I cried out, they whistled and made a noise to cover up my shouts. Then they took me to the cell, and after a while, some other men came to tell me that I was going to see the military, that I was going to see that the Romans who persecuted the early Christians had nothing on Argentine soldiers. Some 30 soldiers had arrived from Tucumán, and they were going to have fun with the Cabrera girl.
So they took me out, still with a hood over my head, and put me in the trunk of a car. Since I am a big man, they had something of a problem in getting me in. I heard Cabrera crying in the back seat but we arrived very quickly. The car began to make a lot of very abrupt turns, and then it stopped.
They took me out, and because I was very beaten up, one of them asked if I had been given electricity, and the other said that he didn’t know. They took me inside a building, and put on more handcuffs, chaining me to the wall at floor level with my arms outstretched. I could hear a lot of traffic, so much so that it seemed that the house was in the middle of a highway. But the traffic was going very fast. The lights were always on. Two individuals came to me very shortly, untied me and took me to a room next door, and sat me down on a little bed that had a thick foam mattress on it. They took off the rags that had been my hood, warned me not to look, and covered me with a yellow canvas hood, which fell down to my waist and had a rope around the throat. They began to interrogate me, accusing me of collaborating with the terrorists, and asking me about people involved with these groups, in the Villa and other places.
I explained to them that I was a priest, that I did my pastoral work there, but that I spent most of the day working on a construction project on the Avenida La Plata/Estados Unidos, and that I didn’t know anything about what they were talking about.
One of them then told me to lie down (my handcuffed hands were behind my back.) As soon as I got into this position, one of those who had been sitting at the side began to beat me all over my body, and to put something hard like a pistol against me, and so on. I asked them who they were, to be threatening me this way, and they told me that they were the Triple A. Then they told me that they were going to wash out my mouth, and one grabbed hold of my head and nose and they began to pour into my mouth from a hose or a kettle until they choked me. Then after a long time (I don’t know whether I had lost consciousness), they put handcuffs on my feet as well. They made me stand up and tried to make me walk but I fell down and they dragged me back to the room.
This time, they simply tied my handcuffed feet to the wall. I was kept like that all day long. I asked them if I could go to the bathroom and they bathed me in cold water and they kept beating me and throwing water over me. They finally came and untied me, which was a great relief, and they once again took me into the room. They made me lie down on the bed with all my wet clothes on. They tied my hands and feet which they connected to some cables. They took off my hood and put on a very small blindfold and suddenly my body was twitching uncontrollably, with lots of sparks coming off like a welding torch. I was so strong that I was flung off the bed. Then they tied me down very firmly and went on giving me electricity and saying that I should tell them what I knew. Then they left me.
I heard Fátima Cabrera crying out in the same room, and they were giving her electricity too. After a time, they called a woman who was a doctor, and told her to check Fátima because it seemed that she had stopped breathing. She prescribed some medicine, and one of the people sent another to find it, saying that they were near the medical school. Meanwhile, they began to interrogate the doctor, who seemed to have come from Córdoba to Buenos Aires to apply for work with the police force. They particularly wanted to know whether she had relatives or friends who were in the army and when she said that she had few contacts, they began wondering about her motives. They asked her what she thought about human rights and democracy. She replied that she felt that they ought to be respected, although her family had no political affiliation, and that she was in agreement with democracy. Then they said that they were tired of us. They gave a pill to Fátima, and began to throw water over me and to give me a lot of electricity, and this time, on various parts of my body. There was a smell of burning in the room. They brought in Fátima in a chair, she was very small, and they began to give us electricity together. Then they put one cable on top of my head and I felt as if I were paralyzed. They told me that I was very strong, that I had a lot of resistance, but because of me, they were going to destroy Fátima. They left me tied up, while one of them swept the floor and prepared coffee. They always had music playing very loudly, as if from a car radio.
Finally, they untied me, they made me stand up, and between the two of them, I walked back to the other room, leaning on a piece of rubber. They tied me up again, but they left me for a long time with the small blindfold and I was able to look at the room. There were small high windows so I could see the daylight outside. Then, they put the hood over me again, and shortly afterwards, I began to hear Fátima’s cries. This went on for a whole day at intervals. These cries made me desperate, and I lifted the hood to see where she was, and when they saw me, they tied me down with a cord, strangling me. I think I lost consciousness, because I don’t remember when they took me off the rope. Finally, they let me go to the bathroom, they gave me a little water to drink, after making sure that in the previous 24 hours they had not given me electricity.
Then they came to get me. They sat on the bed and offered me some cigarettes. I was hardly able to inhale. One of them told me that he was a military officer and that it had been 8 hours since I had been detained (this was Thursday). They repeated their accusations, and I denied them. They told me that this was worse for me, but that he would report to his superior officers. Then they took me away again and tied me up. Then two men came and in a very kindly way, took me out and put me in the trunk of a car and drove away. While we were in the car, they were talking and whistling and they seemed happy. Before we left, somebody told me that they should bring the hood back because recently they had been losing a lot of them. After some time, we arrived. We took an elevator. I later found out that this was the Coordinación Federal on Moreno Street. Somebody interrogated me when I arrived and hit me very hard in the stomach, so hard that I fell down.
They put me in a cell, and there were 6 prisoners along the same passageway in other cells, 4 young men in a large cell and about the same number of women in yet another large cell and there was a swastika painted on the wall (with a fingerprint board). The other prisoners assured me that I had nothing to fear. The following day, Fátima arrived. She told me that they had beaten her up a lot with sand bags, that her back felt very bad, that she had asthma, but that they were giving her medicine. She also told me that they had taken her out a total of 4 times to give her electricity, and other times they had taken off all her clothes. Finally, they got an order that “because the United Nations was asking for her”, they had to make her recuperate quickly so they gave her a lot of medicine.
I was examined there by a doctor, who prescribed some antibiotics. Everyone had to be blindfolded. Then an individual interrogated me and asked me how I had received my wounds. I told him everything that had happened to me, and he said that henceforth, I would say that I had fallen down the stairs. If I didn’t say this, I would end up at the bottom of the river in a block of concrete. Then they got a statement out of me that I signed.
On Monday, October 19, they took me out, shaved me (with a straight razor), put cologne on my hair and took me to see my Ambassador, Mr. Lennon (Ireland). Just before I went in to see him, they took off my blindfold and he and his Secretary (Justin Harman) were very happy to see me, but were frightened to see the state I was in. I explained everything that had happened, but said that perhaps it was not in my best interest for this to be made public at that time. He assured me that I would soon be free, and we said goodbye.
The food in Coordinación Federal consisted of mate tea without milk or sugar, and a little bread in the morning, boiled pasta, sometimes without salt, and bread at mid-day, and polenta (also without salt), and bread at night. Sometimes, they added salt and sauce, but very rarely. There were two pregnant women who asked for permission to go to the bathroom. They told me that some guards abused the women there. There were two types of prisoners, the legal prisoners and the illegal. One illegal prisoner, Guillermo López, who was a medical student living in the western part of the capital, was taken out one morning when a large group of us was being transferred to Villa Devoto, but he never got there. Some people had been imprisoned for 80 days, and somebody said that they used to take people out in order to kill them. One man even told me that the night before they found 30 corpses in Pilar, they had taken 30 prisoners out of Coordinadora Federal.
I wasn’t kept for very long in Villa Devoto, more or less a week, and then I was transferred to La Plata (Unit 9). There were 3 prisoners from Santa Fe (transferred from Coronda, 2 priests, Raúl Troncoso and Rafael Yacuzzi, and another man, Osvaldo Cambiasso), who had been so badly beaten that they were refused entry to La Plata. Cambiasso in particular had been beaten all over his body.
Just as in Villa Devoto, in La Plata they did many things to prisoners to humiliate them and to punish them. The so-called disciplinary system (which was very hard in La Plata, with cold baths, beatings with rubber, etc.) and the inspection system were particularly humiliating in Villa Devoto. As a priest, I was denied, or it was made practically impossible for me to have access to the Bible or religious books, although in La Plata there was a good chaplaincy organized by the prison. In all the prisons, I was examined by doctors when I entered. Particularly in Villa Devoto, they saw all my wounds, but seemed not at all surprised by the use of electricity. It appeared to be a routine matter. Although I had a number of serious wounds, particularly one on my foot, I had no medical attention for a whole month. The food in Devoto was very bad and very greasy. In La Plata, it was much better and was adequate.
On December 3, they took me out of the prison, by car, to the train station. I was escorted by two policemen to Constitution Station. Then I went by taxi to the Coordinación Federal. This time, they held me on the 9th floor, which was for foreigners, and not on the third floor where I had been before. But they gave me nothing to eat and nothing to drink for more than 24 hours until I left for Ezeiza Airport in a car escorted by two policemen. From conversations with other prisoners, it seemed to me that the place where I had been kidnapped and torture might have been the Güemes Brigade, which is on the Camino de Cintura at the Riccheri Highway, and in fact, when I went past it, I thought that that could be it, because of the location of the windows, the fact that the highway was very close, the interior garages, etc.
At Ezeiza Airport, I was handed over to Air Force personnel who put me on a British Caledonian flight for London. However, the flight authorities did not let me off throughout the whole flight (23 hours), until I got to Heathrow Airport. There they gave me my passport.
On December 8, 1976, I fell ill and was hospitalized in a psychiatric hospital in north London. Dr. Daly (Southern Health Authority, Sarsfield’s Court Cork) later treated me. He received a medical report from the Argentine prison doctors (Villa Devoto and La Plata, but not from Coordinación Federal). Finally I was discharged in March.
On November 18, 1978 at its 45th Session the Commission adopted a Resolution on this case.
In essence, the Argentine Government, in its note of October 17, 1979 replied:
In the preamble of Resolution 26/78, it is first of all stated that “in light of the background information it is deduced that Father Patrick RICE and Miss Fátima CABRERA were illegally detained on Monday, October 12, 1976 and brutally tortured by agents of the Argentine Government.”
That conclusion is entirely false. The principals were not “illegally detained” or “tortured” by agents of this government, as may be deduced from the type of circumstances, time, and place in which these terrorists were arrested and which are explained in detail below.
On Monday, October 10, 1976, at approximately 8 pm, members of the police force, from the federal Security Headquarters, in making their rounds of the Villa Soldati in line with their (crime) prevention and guard duties, saw a man and a woman, who took flight upon observing their presence. Whereupon they [the police] chased and caught up with them and detained them, encountering resistance on the part of the man.
Later, they were identified as Patrick RICE and Fátima CABRERA, who stated that they lived in the immediate vicinity of the place where they were detained.
They were transferred to precinct 36 of the federal Police, which has jurisdiction over the area.
During interrogation at police headquarters, both acknowledged their direct connection with criminal terrorists who still threaten the lives and property of the Argentine people. That is shy they were taken to the aforementioned police headquarters, where they remained until they were later transferred to prison unit Nº 2, located in Villa Devoto. Later, RICE was sent to Unit 9 in La Plata.
After examining the reply, the Commission felt there were insufficient grounds to grant reconsideration, since the reply did not contain evidence significant enough to merit re-evaluation of the case.
8. Other cases on the illegal use of force and torture are also reported in order parts of this Report, for example Alberto Samuel Falicoff, Case 2662, and Enrique Rodríguez Larreta Piera, Case 2155.11
E. Sanctions against those responsible for torture and other unlawful uses of force
1. During the on-site observation, the Commission discussed with the highest Argentine officials the issue of the serious attacks on personal security cited above, and requested from them reports regarding punishment of those responsible for such abuses.
In the interview with the Military Junta, the Commander in Chief of the Army said that, as an institution, the managerial ranks of the Armed Forces had acted in unison, but that it was a difficult war which made it impossible to avoid abuses by subordinates, because this war did not make total control possible. In response to a question which was aimed at obtaining a specific report on those responsible for committing abuses who had been punished, General Viola said he could not give such a documented report because of the danger implied if it became public, but that he was willing to provide the necessary data on the matter.
The Minister of the Interior told the Commission that the persons responsible for exercising unlawful use of force are being prosecuted. When the Commission asked him for reports on proceedings to verify the responsibility of officers who have committed violations of human rights, he made the following remarks: That his office intervened during the final stages of these cases, and that independently of the judicial sentences, on the average, he signed around 300 cases a year imposing administrative sanctions against individuals found guilty for illegal arrest and even for murder; that the Armed Forces and the Police were made up of men; that the security forces throughout the world were walking on a precipice with mud underneath,--the evils of society, they constantly fall and mix, and the number of police officers who fall and become contaminated with those who are on the margin of the law is much higher than those who don’t; that in entering the campaign against subversion, their own officers also became involved and more than one had been submerged in the mud, many are prisoners, others are under investigation, others forced to withdraw, they were frequently involved in these kinds of cases, and that during the year, 290 individuals were removed from the institution for that reason.
The Minister of Justice told the Commission that the Government would like to avoid abuses and that many police officers are on trial in detention and undergoing punishment, even though the offenses committed by the police are difficult to prove, but that there was administrative and judicial control and that that control would have to be increased to avoid such abuses.
2. Subsequent to the on-site observation, the Commission received reports confirming that sanctions have been imposed, in some cases against police officers who have been found guilty of human rights violations and among these exercising unlawful use of force.12
By note of November 20, 1979, the Argentine Government, although it did not provide any names, reported that between 1973 and 1979, throughout the country, a total of 1,751 government agents (federal and provincial) were subject to trial or administrative punishment for acts of abuse of power. But the Government has not supplied any information on the nature of the abuses, the type of punishment or the circumstances in which those abuses occurred.
3. It is the hope of the Commission that such sanctions mean the beginning of a progressive government policy which would permit the broadest possible investigation and punishment, with the full force of the law, of those responsible for outrages against the right of personal security. The Commission also trusts that when legal proceedings are initiated against persons responsible for torture and unlawful use of force, as in the case of Mr. Sergio Hugo SCHILMAN, such action would be carried through to its ultimate consequences and the results reported to the Commission.
The imposition of severe penalties, if they have occurred, would signify the desire on the part of the Government to suppress torture. However, the fact still remains that at least for the last three years, torture has systematically been practiced by public officials.
Methods of this nature, evidencing similar characteristics, the generalized use of them throughout the country, the large number of cases that have been denounced, and the organized transfer of detained persons from one place to another, inevitably lead to the conclusion that these practices were not unknown to persons occupying the highest position in the Government and the Armed Forces.
Whatever the measures initiated by the Government to prevent torture, they have been deplorably ineffectual.
1 The American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man, Article I, upholds the right to personal security: “Every human being has the right to life, liberty and the security of his person.” Article XXV, on protection from arbitrary arrest, states that every individual has the right to humane treatment during the time he is in custody. Article XXVI, on due process, provides that every person accused of an offense has the right to be free from cruel, infamous or unusual punishment.
2 Article 18 of the Constitution of Argentina.
3 Articles 140 to 144 of the Penal Code of Argentina.
4 National Law on Penitentiaries, supplementing the Penal Code, Articles 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 15 and 16. Decree Law Nº 412/58, ratified by Law Nº 14.467. Buenos Aires, January 14, 1958. The National Law on Penitentiaries also contains provisions on rules for treatment, discipline, conduct and evaluation, work, education, spiritual counseling, social relations, social assistance, help after prison, legal aid, penitentiaries, prison personnel, jurisdictional and administrative supervision of the imprisonment and integration of the national penitentiary system.
5 Decree Nº 2023 of December 26, 1974 approved the Regulations of the Security Institute (U.6), which was amended and extended to those detained at the disposal of the Executive in any facility of the federal Penitentiary Service, by Decree Nº 955 of June 16, 1976.
6 Decree Nº 780 of April 4, 1979.
7 Articles of Executive Decree Nº 780/79 approving the abovementioned Regulations, which regulate books and magazines to be examined in detail to ascertain that there is nothing in them that might affect the security of the unit; newspapers and restrictions on them; and a prohibition on receipt, under any circumstances, of messages sent to DT detainees. DT detainees who are minors, according to Article 73 of the Regulations, i.e. between 16 and 20 years of age, shall be placed in special, separate sections of adult facilities. The Regulations contain an annex listing the items authorized for use and consumption in the cell, and a summary table showing the degree of affinity of the DT detainee’s family members who can visit him on a regular basis, including his spouse.
8 In accordance with the Rules in question, the assessment of conduct shall be made according to the following scale: 1. POSITIVE, which covers: a. GOOD, equivalent to FIVE (5) and SIX (6) points. 2. NEGATIVE, which covers: a. REGULAR, equivalent to THREE (3) and FOUR (4) points. B. BAD, equivalent to TWO (2) and ONE (1) points. C. EXTREMELY BAD, equivalent to ZERO (0) points. The conduct and the assessment of the DT detainees shall be done simultaneously, but it may be that they are not the same. The DT detainees shall be classified according to their degree of adaptability, and they are classified according to the following parameters: 1. GROUP 1: Adaptable with difficulty. a. Present Characteristics. 1. Negative attitude, rigidity in the face of change, and rejection of reality. 2. No signs of rehabilitation. 3. Unreceptive to re-education. 4. Repeated disciplinary punishment, specifying individual as opposed to group punishment. 5. Form groups or show leadership. 6. Show strong ties of belonging to the DT bands. 7. Constantly antagonistic towards prison authorities. B. Socio-cultural Characteristics. 1. Frequent rejection of or lack of contact with family members living and working legally in the country. 2. Relations with family abroad active in the OPM or parallel organizations. 3. Frequent cases of marital break-up, and lack of interest in children. 4. Long history of ideological action in favor of violent and terrorist methods. 5. No predisposition to undertake professional or work activities to begin a normal life (university studies interrupted by militancy, lack of a job or profession in individuals who come from middle-class or upper-class families). 6. No property or house or living accommodations of their own, that could mean having settled down with the family. 2. GROUP 2: Possibly adaptable. A. Present Characteristics. 1. Changeable activities. 2. Unclear about attitude for or against the OPM and their activities. 3. Earlier serious major activity that places their present good conduct in doubt. B. socio-cultural Characteristics. 1. Cultural level that enables them to hide their ideological convictions advocating terrorism. 2. Formal relations with family members, but with no signs of affectionate commitment to them. 3. GROUP 3: Adaptable. a. Present Characteristics. 1. Explicit rejection of the OPM and of any links with them. 2. Good conduct and collaboration with the prison authorities. 3. Interest in their own rehabilitation and re-entry into society. 4. Good family relations. b. Socio-cultural Characteristics. 1. Well-constituted family that maintains regular and frequent contact with the prisoner. 2. Short period of activity in the OPM. 3. Job or profession that ensures him good possibilities of obtaining employment. 4. Religious practices.
9 In October 1979, the Commission received information about a case of reprisals against Enrique Perelmuter, a detainee in Unit 9 in La Plata, who was submitted to alleged rigorous treatment and arbitrariness in prison, which it is alleged originated in his having testified before the Commission. On October 18, the victim’s wife filed a writ of habeas corpus asking for a halt to this procedure. The pertinent parts of this writ state: “Yesterday, my attorney visited Enrique Perelmuter in the place where is is detained (H-9 in La Plata), and took from him the following statements regarding the regime to which he is being subjected, and the events that have resulted from the visit to that facility by the members of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights: a) five days after having testified before the members of the IACHR, who came to the prison facility, Perelmuter was transferred to wing 16-B (in the prison jargon, this is known as the ‘wing of the damned’ (irrecuperables), and from that moment, he has been prevented from reading newspapers and from engaging in any physical exercises; b) it is part of the rules that when a detainee is notified of a punishment, he must sign a note in which he is referred to as a ‘terrorist criminal’; c) this fact permits confirmation that the abbreviation of the word ‘detained,’ but is rather an official abbreviation for TERRORIST DELINQUENT DETAINED at the disposal of the Executive (PEN). It is alleged that they are being held under benevolent rules, when in fact, the punishment in this lugubrious cell that is a ‘prison within a prison’, is producing an even greater deterioration in my husband’s physical and mental well being, and is creating the danger that he may suffer the ‘irreparable harm’ referred in Article 623 of the Code. Added to this is my husband’s growing deafness as a result of the beatings he suffered during the first days after he was kidnapped, with the ensuing vicious circle that it is difficult for him to hear orders, and consequently, he is punished because he does not follow orders to the letter. This is not the arrest spoken of in the Article 23 of the Constitution, but is a world outside the law, which you must expel from Argentine life.”
10 In the inaugural speech by the Minister of Justice, the following ideas were set forth: “During these difficult years when, following the defeat of subversion, we, the people of Argentina, wish to consolidate peace and ensure the full effectiveness of the rule of law, as set forth in the basic documents of the National Reorganization Process, the inauguration of a model establishment such as this one represents a tangible affirmation of the fundamental principles of our political organization. This prison, with its modern installations, which allows inmates to use their terms of imprisonment to work, to study, to think, or for sports, without suffering additional deprivations which unnecessarily exacerbate their loss of freedom, constitutes explicit testimony to faith in man, as the image and likeness of his Maker, in his existence as an individual, rational, and free being, in the possibility for his temporal and spiritual redemption, and in his unquenchable striving for eternal life.”
11 See Chapter III.
12 The daily Buenos Aires newspaper La Razón, reports the following in its edition of October 6, 1979: “Mar del Plata – Three police officers in this city were sentenced to prison by criminal judge, Dr. Pedro Hooft, who found them guilty of the crimes of illegal arrest and aggravated unlawful use of force. The sentence was imposed on Inspector Officer Marcelino Balustein and Corporals Hugo Di Giovanni and Francisco Hernández; the former was sentenced to four years and six months in prison, and the two latter to three years. Moreover, the additional sentence of professional disqualification, absolutely and in perpetuity, was imposed on the three defendants, under the provisions of Article 144 of the Penal Code. This measure entails the loss of public employment or office and the capacity to assume any public employment in the future. The persons now found guilty, after detaining the victim—whose name was not given—took him to a remote place where they subjected him to every type of mistreatment and torture, after which they took him, in deplorable physical condition, to the police precinct to which they belonged.
After these events had been denounced to the courts, and after the confirmation of unlawful use of force by medical officers—including from the Supreme Court of Justice—the judge ordered summary proceedings, the results of which are known. The sentence has been appealed by the defense lawyer, Dr. Juan Carlos Rodríguez, and the files entered the Court of Appeals, whose final ruling is now awaited.
The Buenos Aires daily newspaper, La Nación, reports the following in its edition of October 14, 1979: “Córdoba – The fifth criminal court tried provincial police officers José Andrés Sánchez, José Luis Farías and Nicolás Marcelino Reynoso, who were accused of unlawful use of force, illegal extortion and fraud, among other offences, and handed down different sentences. According to the government’s investigation, the first of these acts was alleged to have been committed when Juan José Parra was detained last July by Officer José Andrés Sánchez in the third police precinct, charged with theft. Parra was removed from his cell by Sánchez and taken to another room where he and Marcelino Reynoso, also working in that division, placed a stick behind his knees, forcing him to sit down, which produced intense pain. This was done in an attempt to make him confess his participation in criminal acts. Parra denied involvement whereupon they hit him and mistreated him in other ways doing the same to Marcelo Jorge Ferreyra, who was detained as a result of Parra’s arrest. As a result of the mistreatment received during his stay there, the latter suffered injuries that required several days for recovery. The other acts which were brought to trial and confirmed during the hearing were committed by police officers Sánchez and Farías following Jorge Elvio Rahy’s detention. Rahy was charged with involvement in criminal acts against property. On that occasion, despite the fact that the search was fruitless, since no object was removed by fraudulent means, the accused was detained during investigation of the facts, and was also detained in the third precinct. After confirming the identity and the responsibility of the accused in the alleged events, the court sentenced José Andrés Sánchez to seven years in prison and disqualification, absolutely and in perpetuity, from holding public office, for having exercised unlawful use of force, having caused minor injuries, and for fraud; José Luis Farías, to 5 years in prison and disqualification, in perpetuity for the crimes of fraud and extortion, and Nicolás Marcelino Reynoso to two years in prison and special disqualification for four years.”