And we who have toiled for freedom's law, have we sought for freedom's soul?Have we learned at last that human right is not a part but the whole?~John Boyle O'Reilly
When the dirty war began, all hell broke loose. Argentine military forces put forth the declaration:“ The characteristic of revolutionary war, created and imposed by Marxism, is the absence of a rearguard and the impossibility of neutral positions: everything is “front” and all will be treated as “combatants,” whether they want to participate in combat or not (Robben 198).” No one was seen as innocent. No one was exempt from torture. The military waged its clandestine battle by preying upon its own people like a hawk swooping unexpectedly from the sky and snatching its victim in a death like grip. Without notice, people disappeared, many never to been seen or heard from again. What happened to these individuals that were so suddenly swept away? The ugly details and the heart-wrenching stories are here related in this addition-- the dirty secrets of this infamous war.
The Dastardly Deeds
The repression was directed at four targets: major industries, educational institutions, the church, and the working class neighborhoods. Lieutenant-General Videla said: “There remain other dimensions of the subversion such as the possible infiltration in labor union, student organizations, political parties, and even in the public administration. This is the reason for a systematic cleansing operation (La Nacion 196). Therefore, the “disappeared” consisted of individuals who were neither guerrilla combatants nor weapon-carrying rebels. They were mostly unarmed civilians. “ Most were never charged with any particular offense. Some people were abducted because they had relatives or friends considered subversive. As one army manual explained: “One vulnerable spot of the guerrilla was terror or the threat of violence to them and their relatives and friends (Robben 205).” Such terrorist acts bred a culture of fear which fulfilled the military mission: those who tremble, obey. All rebellion would be eradicated because the people were torn asunder, they could not build solidarity amongst themselves, they were trapped like frightened rabbits in a hole, never knowing which member would be plucked from their cluster. This dirty war had a two-pronged pitchfork by which it stabbed the heart and soul of the people: house abductions and torture.
The Nest Destroyed
The above photos shows a man being abducted from his home--this picture shot before he forever vanished. This first prong was a standard procedure for the abductors. Most operations followed a raid plan known as “plan de allanameinto” that consisted of four parts: secrecy, objective, surprise, and speed.” The raid was always a surprise attack just in case they could catch suspects in an act of rebellion. The group of approximately eight men would be disguised, as in the case of the abduction of Iris Etelvina de Avelaneda in April 1976: “Except for the one who was called Commissioner, and who conducted the procedure, the rest were ostensibly disguised with wigs, beards, and stockings covering their faces (Robbens 207). These abductions deeply traumatized the Argentinean people as it struck at the core of their core value system and feeling of national security. Such break-ins rattled the ties of community, family, and home. Robbens states: “The abduction of Argentines from their homes and the humiliation of their relatives led to the violation of the physical, psychological, and symbolic safety of the home, trust among parents and children, and the disintegration of personal boundaries (209).”
The following account by Ruben Dario Martinez sums up the major elements of a typical house raid: “They detained me at home. A group of people, seven or eight persons, entered…I was asleep. They broke down the door, covered me with a hood, put me against the wall, and began to inspect the entire place. They asked me where the weapons were, turned the mattress over, broke everything, and forced me to the floor. After hitting me inside my house, they put a pistol to my head, and then took me downstairs (CONADEP 352).” Home sweet home? During the dirty war such a place was not to be trusted.
Article 7(2) of the American Convention establishes that “[n]o one shall be deprived
of his physical liberty except for the reasons and under the conditions established beforehand by the Constitution of the State Party concerned or by a law established pursuant thereto.
No one shall be deprived of his physical liberty except for the reasons and under the conditions established beforehand by the Constitution of the State Party concerned or by a law established pursuant thereto.
3. No one shall be subject to arbitrary arrest or imprisonment.
4. Anyone who is detained shall be informed of the reasons for his detention and shall be promptly notified of the charge or charges against him.
5. Any person detained shall be brought promptly before a judge or other officer authorized by law to exercise judicial power and shall be entitled to trial within a reasonable time or to be released without prejudice to the continuation of the proceedings. His release may be subject to guarantees to assure his
appearance for trial.
Article 1(1) of the Convention stipulates that:
The States Parties to this Convention undertake to respect the rights and freedoms recognized herein and to ensure to all persons subject to their jurisdiction the free and full exercise of those rights and freedoms, without any discrimination for reasons of race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, economic status, birth, or any other social condition.
Article 18 of the 1853 Argentine Constitution, (in force at the time of the facts),
established that no one can be “arrested unless it is by virtue of a written order of a
competent authority.” (Argentine Constitution adopted by the General Constituent Congress on May 1, 1853, reformed and approved by the National Convention "ad hoc" on September 25, 1860, as reformed by the Conventions of 1866,
1898 and 1957) http://pdba.georgetown.edu/Constitutions/Argentina/arg1853.html
Muffled: The Cries of Pain
Tortured humans experience a pain that penetrates the skin and inflicts a wound upon their heart, their identity, and their personhood. Torture creates wounds that can never truly heal. During the Dirty War the most common torture method consisted of tying a naked person by all fours to an iron bed frame, called a grill. “The hands, feet, armpits, temples, lips, gums, teeth, nipples, genitals and anus would be given shocks with and electric prod. Regularly the person would be drenched with water to intensify the electric shocks (Robbens, 217).” Many victims experienced near drowning, beatings, sexual torture, blindfolding for extended periods of time, and the torture of family members. Why such drastic measures for a covert war? General Osoris Villegas explains: “ This war is very fast, very agile, very changeable. It’s impossible. You seize an individual and you have to discover what he knows to avoid a greater damage somewhere else, he has to “sing” as they say here, and this has to be done very quickly because you won’t get anywhere if you take too much time (Robbens 219). In order to conquer the hearts and minds of the people, the authorities spared nothing in order to achieve their ends. They desired to demonstrate the state’s omnipotent power by the edge of the symbolic sword. A prime example of such a repressive plan of war is the torture of families. Marcelo Suarez-Orozco argued that it served “instrumental and symbolic purposes. The torture of children was an easy way to extract information from their parents. More important, torture served as a rite of separation intended to remove these children from their so-called subversive homes, sever the ties with their parents, and reintegrate them into the homes of upstanding childless military families (Edelman 189). Thus, nearly 250 boys and girls between the ages of thirteen and eighteen disappeared, and many of them were tortured (Robbens 230).
Maria Luisa Sanchez de Vargas was abducted with her five-year-old daughter Josefina and her eighteen-month-old daughter Soledad on 12 June 1976. Marie Lusia succeeded in briefly meeting her husband in prison. Her husband told her that Josefina had been forced to watch him being tortured. Several days later she was allowed to visit her parents. “They took me to a funeral. It was that of my eldest child, my Josefina.”
This five-year-old had taken her grandfather’s gun and killed herself. Josephine’s suicide made her mother lose her oldest daughter and her youngest daughter lose her sister, while the father still figures on the list of the disappeared. Family ties were forever obliterated in one week (CONADEP).”
The inspiration behind the photograph below called “Identidad”, are these children, some disapeared, some unjustly wounded and tortured. This photo is apart of a series opened in Buenos Aires in 1998. Marian Schlotterbeck from The Nation offers a description: The enlarged snapshots of couples and women detained and disappeared in Argentina between 1976 and 1983, who gave birth in prison or whose small children were disappeared along with them, line the winding corridors of the exhibition. A mirror is inserted between family pairs represented the missing child. Beneath the photographs a small text reports the details of the arrest and any available facts about the child's fate. When we as viewers draw closer to the iconic images of the disappeared--these young people with lives and dreams cut tragically short by violence--we stand before a clear and recognizable reflection. Each mirror is filled with a face. It is our own.”
According To The Decree—Violation Judged:
When we uphold the standard that the “Convention On the Rights Of The Child” put forth by the Unicef, we can clearly recognize how gross of a child rights violation the above described situation truly is:
Definition of the child (Article 1):
The Convention defines a “child” as a person below the age of 18, unless the laws of a particular country set the legal age for adulthood younger.
Detention and punishment (Article 37):
No one is allowed to punish children in a cruel or harmful way. Children who break the law should not be treated cruelly. They should not be put in prison with adults, should be able to keep in contact with their families, and should not be sentenced to death or life imprisonment without possibility of release.
Stay tuned for the next report: “Justice Served” –the emergence of the human rights movement and the establishment of human rights institutions--brought to you by Ava Munson, University of Washington
Robben , Antonius . Political Violence and Trauma in Argentina. Philadelphia : University of Pennsylvania Press , 2005 .
"La Nacion ". 27 June 1977 : 196-197.
"El Diario del Juicio". CONADEP 1984: 352-353.
"American Convention on Human Rights ". Human and Constitutional Rights Resource . July 28 2010
Edelman , Murray . The Symbolic Use of Politics . Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1990.
Schlotterbeck , Marian . "Artists Pursue the Disappeared ". The Nation July 30 2007
"Ex-dictator admits 8000 disappeared in 'dirty war'". Fairfax Digital . July 28 2010