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More Evidence that Catholics Can’t Be Trusted: The Dirty Wars – Part 2 – Operation Condor

April 18, 2010 4 comments

Continued from Part 1

Operation Condor:

Dirty War, Death Squads and The Disappeared

A museum in Chile showing pictures of Chilean murder and kidnapping victims
murdered and kidnapped in the South American Dirty War (Credit: AP)

“These military regimes hunted down dissidents and leftists, union and peasant leaders, priests and nuns, intellectuals, students and teachers and other people not just guerrillas (who, under international law are also entitled to due legal process). These illegal military regimes defied international law and traditions of political sanctuary to carry out their ferocious state terror and destroy democratic opposition forces.”

“Operation Condor … involved the intelligence agencies…in a joint effort to eliminate perceived enemies of those regimes throughout the world.” – Daniel Brandt, Public Information Research, USA.

“Operation Condor…involved the intelligence agencies…in a joint effort to eliminate perceived enemies of those regimes throughout the world.”

— Daniel Brandt, Public Information Research, USA.

Operation Condor was the name given to a secret union of intelligence services of six US-supported, South American military governments- Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay, which operated during the 1970s into the early 1980s.

Under Operation Condor the intelligence agencies were to use their joint resources to round up thousands of people who were suspected of involvement with leftist groups and imprison them in camps or secret detention centres. Many were tortured, interrogated, then executed and secretly buried, becoming known as the disappeared. Those that escaped their own dictatorship’s security services were often captured and tortured in other Condor countries and eventually returned from where they fled to be executed. Condor agents also located and killed dissidents in operations outside Latin America, in several European nations and the USA.

The most active period of this multinational secret police and army cooperation against leftwing and other opposition was between 1975 to 1978. The overall result of this massive political repression and terrorist dirty war, was that an estimated 35,000 people were murdered, many disappearing without a trace. Hundreds of thousands of others were imprisoned and tortured.

The Historical Beginnings Of Condor

The historical roots of Operation Condor go back a long way, when the US began telling South American military commanders about the growing dangers of communism in the region, at the Inter-American Conference in Mexico City in 1945. Agreements on mutual military assistance and cooperation followed in 1951. They also covered the supply of US arms and funding, the use of US military advisers, and the training of Latin American officers in the USA and the US army’s School of the Americas in the Panama Canal Zone.

The move towards “continental defence against communism” was accelerated after the victory of Fidel Castro’s revolution in Cuba in 1959.

The following year General Bogart, the head of US Southern Command invited his Latin American military counterparts to a meeting in his military base in Panama. The outcome of this was an annual Conference of American Armies [CAA] the first was held in Panama. It was then transferred to the American Military College at West Point and from 1965 it met every two years. This Wrest Point meeting place was the roots of the later secret Operation Condor.

Fearful of leftwing opposition movements, at its second meeting US and Latin American military commanders speeded up links between their intelligence agencies. The CAA established a standing committee in the Canal Zone to exchange information and intelligence. From then on a continental communications network functioned and regular secret intelligence meetings were held between Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil, Uruguay and Bolivia and others. Files and other information was supplied by military intelligence services, security police and death squads and made available by these countries and circulated between them through a network of military attaches.

In 1968, General Porter, the head of the US Southern Command explained the strategy for combating radical and socialist movements in Latin America and it sounded very close to the eventual structure of Operation Condor. He said, “In order to facilitate the coordinated employment of internal security forces within and among Latin American countries, we are…endeavouring to foster inter-service and regional cooperation by assisting in the organisation of integrated command and control centres; the establishment of common operating procedures and the conduct of joint and combined training exercises.”

At the 10th meeting of the CAA, in Caracas, Venezuela on the 3rd of September 1973, General Fortes, commander of the Brazilian army, said as far as collective action was concerned, in the struggle against communism, “the only effective methods are the exchange of experience and information, plus technical assistance when requested.” On this basis, the CAA decided to “strengthen information exchange in order to counter terrorism and control subversive elements in each country.”

As Chile [in 1973] and other South American countries one by one came under repressive military regimes, up until 1976, Argentina was the only country in the region where thousands of Chilean, Uruguayan, Bolivian and other political exiles were able to find refuge. The response of the Argentine police and armed forces was to become more repressive and the military formed a death squad, the Argentine Anti-communist Alliance [AAA].

In March 1974, Chilean, Uruguayan, and Bolivian police leaders met with the deputy chief of the Argentine federal police, Alberto Villar [who was also a joint founder of the AAA], to investigate ways of working together to wipe out the presence of thousands of ‘subversive’ political exiles in Argentina. The Chilean representative, the general of the military police, proposed that a member of the military or police be placed in each embassy as a security agent to coordinate operations with the police and armed forces of each country. The meeting also decided to create “an intelligence centre where we can obtain information on individual Marxists and exchange programmes and information about politicians. We must be able to move freely across the frontiers between Bolivia, Chile and Argentina and operate in all three countries without an official warrant.” Villar promised delegates that the Argentine Federal Police’s Foreign Affairs Department would deal swiftly with any foreigners that the neighbouring juntas wanted eliminated.

The Violent Birth Of Operation Condor

By August 1974, the bodies of foreign, especially Bolivian refugees began to appear on various Buenos Aires rubbish tips. On September 30, a bombing in Buenos Aires carried out by a Chilean military unit led by a CIA agent [Michael Townley] killed Chilean General Carlos Prats, [he had been the commander-in-chief of the Chilean army, until the coup of September 1973] who was a leader of the opposition to the dictatorship of General Pinochet.

Police and military units and crossed borders at will to carry out covert operations. In March and April 1975, over two dozen Uruguayans exiles were arrested in Buenos Aires by Argentinian and Uruguayan police, who jointly interrogated them in Argentine police stations.

In May, Paraguayan police arrested two men representing a united underground opposition organization. The men were Jorge Fuentes Alarcon a leading member of the Chilean group MIR [Movement of the Revolutionary Left] and Amilcar Santucho, from Argentina’s ERP [Peoples Revolutionary Army]. These Chilean and Argentine guerrilla groups had joined with other organizations from Uruguay and Bolivia to resist the region’s oppressive military regimes. Fuentes and Santucho were on their way to Paris for an opposition meeting when captured.

The military operation that followed the arrests involved the intelligence agencies of at least four countries, including the US FBI. One FBI officer Robert Scherrer’s job included maintaining intelligence liaisons with various regimes. Fuentes was interrogated by Paraguayan and Argentine intelligence officers, as well as US embassy officials in Buenos Aries, who then passed on information to the Chilean secret police [Dina]. Documents indicate these combined intelligence efforts may have led to the formal launch of Operation Condor several months later.

Fuentes was interrogated for four months, then turned over to the Chilean DINA. Jorge Fuentes was last seen alive inside Chile’s most feared secret detention centre, Villa Grimaldi, near Santiago. Other DINA victims testified years later to human rights groups, that they saw Fuentes after he arrived from Paraguay “badly wounded from the tortures.” They told that he was kept in a cage and was driven insane by continuing DINA torture before disappearing.

Operation Condor’s Formal Launch

On August 25, Colonel Contreras, head of Chile’s National Intelligence Directorate [DINA] visited the CIA headquarters in Washington, where he held a long secret meeting with Vernon Walters, deputy director responsible for Latin America. The leader of the Chilean Junta Pinochet had given Contreras wide powers destroy “the cancer of communism” in Chile, but Contreras efforts extended far beyond Chile.

On September 25, Colonel Manuel Contreras from DINA wrote a letter to his Paraguayan counterpart, Pastor Coronel, thanking him for his cooperation. Contreras says, “I am sure that this mutual cooperation will continue and increase in the accomplishment of the common objectives of both services.”

At its meeting of 19-26 October 1975, in Montevideo, Uruguay, the CAA [Conference of American Armies] gave the approval for a proposal prepared by Contreras for a “meeting of national intelligence services.”

Contreras’s main proposal was for the establishment of a continental database “similar to Interpol database, but dealing in subversion.”

Another long letter soon followed, Contreras invited three top Paraguayan intelligence officials to attend a “strictly secret” meeting in Santiago with intelligence chiefs from Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil and Uruguay. Chile paid all expenses for this, “First Working Meeting on National Intelligence” which took place on November 25-December 1, 1975. In his introduction Contreras described the meeting as, “the basis of excellent coordination and improved activities of the national security of our respective countries.”

These representatives of the security forces forged an agreement to set up a joint “information bank” and “task forces” to cooperate in a war to destroy the opponents of imperialism and military rule. Thus a more organized system of units operated across national borders, spying on, kidnapping, torturing and murdering dissidents and other people from these countries.

Although the Condor countries committed themselves to a war against communism, it included human rights activists, writers, priests, trade unionists, students and others. Judges, intellectuals and journalists who criticised torture or corruption were seen as opponents and treated as the ideological enemy. The Argentinians outdid all the other dictatorships in the zeal and ferocity of their annihilation campaign.

In one of the most gruesome cases of joint operations between the military commands of Argentina and Chile the bodies of 119 abducted in Chile turned up in Argentina with fake documents. The Argentine security forces had tried to pass the disappeared victims off as Argentinians who had died in inter-faction party strife.

But Operation Condor’s state terror extended outside Latin America, with the exiled leaders of democratic, leftist and revolutionary groups and other political opponents of the rightist regimes hunted wherever they took refuge and assassinated. An “anti-subversion” network was set up in Europe based on Italian fascist terrorist groups. On October 6, 1975, Bernardo Leighton, Chile’s former vice president and a founding member of the Christian Democratic Party and his wife were shot by a hit squad.

Both survived their severe wounds, but Mrs Leighton was left paralysed.

Despite this failed killing, Pinochet had a meeting with a leader of the Italian rightwing groups, Stefano Delle Chiaie, who agreed to continue to help Chile’s regime. Regular bilateral meetings of Condor and CAA continued as usual as did death squad activities with devastating effects during 1976. Among other high profile killings were those of an Uruguayan senator, Zelmar Michilini, who was assassinated in June 1976. The former left-wing military leader and former president of Bolivia, Juan Torres was also shot dead in Argentina. On June 8, in a friendly meeting in Santiago, Chile, Henry Kissinger, US Secretary of State, in the Nixon and Ford administrations told General Pinochet “that the people of the United States are wholeheartedly behind you, and wish you every success.”

That same year the most well known action of Condor was carried out in Washington. Orlando Letelier, the minister of defence and foreign affairs in the elected government of Allende of Chile, had escaped to the US, and was carrying out a campaign to isolate the Pinochet dictatorship. On September 21, Letelier and his American aide Ronni Moffet [25] were killed when a bomb ripped the car they were travelling in apart. This was a major Condor blunder. Such actions and the scale of repression made the existence of Condor difficult to continue to hide.

The newly elected US president Jimmy Carter had made human rights part of his election platform. He was not prepared to countenance Condor-style operations, especially in the US. And he did not want the sort of exposure that pointed towards the involvement the US intelligence agencies in such activities. Some US investigators were determined to identify those responsible.

The trail led eventually to Michael Vernon Townley, a US citizen and former CIA agent, with ties to the fascist Chilean group Patria y Libertad, who organised the murders. Townley left the US and returned to Chile after the 1973, CIA-backed coup. With his skills as an electronics and bugging expert he joined the Chilean secret police, DINA. The Chilean regime was forced to extradite him to the US in 1978. In return for informing on his Cuban exile accomplices and naming DINA commander Colonel Manuel Contreras as the man who ordered the killings, Townley was given a reduced sentence. Later Townley was given a new identity by the US government under its Witness Protection Program. A number of countries have since expressed an interest in speaking to Townley, but the US has resisted these overtures.

A More Discreet Condor Continues Its Crimes

The FBI’s chief officer in Argentina filed a special report on Phase Three of Operation Condor, the policy of international “targeted assassinations” only to have extracts find they’re way into the US press. This resulted in a US Congressional Committee of inquiry was established. The Chileans responded by sacking Contreras and disbanding Dina [only to replace it by another secret police organization]. It is believed that the Carter administration forced the member countries to closure down Condor, as part of the US’s new strategy of promoting the re-establishment of democracy in Latin America. Leaks exposing the existence of Condor were embarrassing and to some it had outlived its usefulness.

Representatives of all the Condor states met in Buenos Aires between 13-15, December 1976 to discuss the future direction. The Argentinians, with the support of Paraguay, pushed for a more guarded and secure way for continuing their campaign. The meeting decided to work more closely with the Latin American Anti-Communist Federation [CAL].

CAL held its third meeting in Asuncion, Paraguay, in March 1977. All the top leadership of the dictatorships, including the Argentine President, General Videla and General Leigh, a member of the Chilean junta attended it. Also present were a variety of Latin American torturers and death squad members. The spread of leftist social and political movements in Central America and the rise of radical ideas inside sections of the Catholic Church alarmed them. A plan put forward by the Bolivians, named after the Bolivian dictator Hugo Banzer, was adopted.

Its purpose was to “eradicate” the supporters of liberation theology in the church. Under this plan, hundreds of priests, nuns, bishops and lay members of religious communities were murdered. It culminated in the execution of Archbishop Oscar Romero.

The Argentinians took charge of most of the coordination of the repression throughout Latin America. Their soldiers, police and civilians were entrusted with death squad operations. The Argentinians also sent several military missions to Central America to assist the local armed forces and secret police in “anti-subversive” efforts. In early 1979, they initiated “anti-subversive” training courses in Buenos Aires for the military forces of allied states.

Intelligence meetings of the various national security agencies, as well as the CAA, continued with the assistance of the US military. In 1977, the CAA met in Managua, Nicaragua and in Botoga, Colombia in 1979.

Operation Condor Emerges In A New Form

In 1979, the Somoza regime in Nicaragua was overthrown and this gave renewed encouragement to the other dictatorships to work together to standardise their regional operations. General Mason, of Argentina chaired CAL’s fourth meeting in September 1980; the meeting favoured the adoption the brutally efficient Argentine model throughout Latin America.

From April 1980, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Brazil were pursuing the formation of an “international anti-terrorist organisation”, Condor in a new form.

Meanwhile CAL was coordinating the massacres carried out by the death squads and security forces in Central America. The Agremil files continued to circulate among the general staff of Condor, resulting in the organizing of cross border arrests, exchanges of prisoners and international torture and killing squads.

Following the election of the Republican president Ronald Reagan in 1981, the next CAA meeting was held in Washington. The victory of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua gave fresh impetus to the anti-subversion efforts of the dictatorships. On December 1, 1981 the US administration released $19 million to fund the training of an initial contingent of 500 Contras [Nicaraguan counter-revolutionaries] by Argentine army officers.

The representatives renewed their agreements on exchange of information about “terrorists” and decided to set up a permanent CAA headquarters in Santiago.

The End Of Operation Condor

In 1985, the Argentine dictatorship gave up power, in the wake of a military defeat and popular discontent. Chile and Paraguay were left to fight the “anti-terrorist” war. As covert US intervention increased in Nicaragua and the rest of Central America the Reagan administration entrusted more of it’s secret war to the CIA, CAL and the private sector agencies. As the last of the military regimes collapsed and more democratic governments returned to the region, so finally Operation Condor had outlived its usefulness and ceased to function. Its existence and brutal atrocities were by now hard to hide.

Uncovering Condors Secrets

In 1993, a Paraguayan ex-political prisoner acting on a tip-off took a judge who was investigating human rights cases to a police station in Asuncion and there they discovered a vast cache of documents of police terror. These uncensored files, known as the “archives of terror” show the inner workings of the Paraguayan political police and state terror network, Operation Condor.

They also document the presence of Nazis in the southern cone of South America and their activities in Condor. According to estimates there are between 500,000 to 700,000 individual pages of documents and photos.

The release of the secret files, along with the release of documents under freedom of information, [with limitations as CIA files are exempt from declassification] in the US and new assertive judicial investigations are shedding fresh light on Latin Americas worst era of political repression.

This information is helping to pull together a more complete picture of Condor and the role of US agencies, as well as aiding the judicial investigations of US, Spanish, Brazilian, Argentine and others in uncovering human rights crimes against their citizens. For instance the case of the Swiss-Chilean student Alexei Jaccard, who was abducted off the streets of Buenos Aires in May 1977. He was taken to the infamous torture centre at the Navy School of Mechanics, from which he then “disappeared”.

These documents are also of benefit to long grieving relatives seeking knowledge of missing family. Among others the widow of Paraguayan, Federico Tatter, who because of his opposition to the dictatorship of General Stroessner fled to Argentina in 1963 and was kidnapped in Buenos Aires in 1976. His wife obtained photographs from human rights groups showing him as a prisoner of Paraguayan police.

The Role Of The United States

“Operation Condor” is the code name for the collection, exchange and storage of intelligence data concerning socalled “leftists,” communists and Marxists, which was recently established between cooperating intelligence services in South America in order to eliminate Marxist terrorist activities in the area. In addition, “Operation Condor” provides for joint operations against terrorist targets in member countries…A third and most secret phase of Operation Condor involves the formation of special teams from member countries who travel anywhere in the world to non-member countries to carry out sanctions up to assassination against terrorists or supporters of terrorist organizations.” This September 28, 1976 cable marked “secret foreign political matters” and with lines deleted is from the FBI’s legal attache` in Buenos Aires, Robert Scherrer. For a long time it was the only released document that mentions Condor, the Pentagon’s Defence Intelligence Agency recently declassified a more complete version of the above information. Also other material has come to light about the US role.

The declassification of long-secret files is confirming US government agencies more actively cooperated with the Condor regimes repressive activities than had previously been acknowledged. These files confirm the US not only knew about Condor but aided and facilitated Condor operations as a matter of secret and routine policy. In 2001, Prof. J. P. Mc Sherry of Long Island University who has written articles on Condor discovered a document that she described as “another piece of increasingly weighty evidence suggesting that US military and intelligence officials supported and collaborated with Condor as a secret partner or sponsor.”

The State Department cable dated October 13, 1978 is from US Ambassador to Paraguay Robert White, to Secretary of State Cyrus Vance. “ On October 11, I called on chief of staff General Alejandro Fretes Davalos… he read me the …minutes resulting from the visit of General Orozco, chief of Chilean intelligence to Asuncion…The document is basically an agreement to coordinate all intelligence resources in order to control and eliminate subversion…They keep in touch with one another through a US communications installation in the Panama Canal Zone Which covers all Latin America. This US communications facility is used by student officers to call home…but it is also employed to coordinate intelligence information among the southern cone countries. They maintain the confidentiality of their communication through the US facility in Panama by using bilateral codes… obviously this is the Condor network which all of us have heard about over the last few years.”

In a final comment White makes a recommendation, “The two FBI agents here tell me there is likelihood Condor will surface during Letelier trial in the US. If General Fretes Davalos is accurate in describing the communications it uses as an encrypted system within the US communications net… it would seem advisable to review this arrangement to insure that its continuation is in the US interest.”

With Latin American officers using American facilities to transmit intelligence, this would have clearly provided US officials with the opportunity to closely monitor Condor activities and know exactly what operations were undertaken. Peter Kornbluh, a senior analyst at the National Security Archive, said the cable implied “foreknowledge, cooperation and total access to the plans and operations of Condor. The degree to which the USA knew about and supported these operations has remained secret until now, the layers of the onion are peeling away here,” he said.

“This document opens a pandora’s box of questions on the US knowledge of and role in Operation Condor,” said Peter Kornbluh.

Former Ambassador White, who now runs the Center for International Policy, a research organization said in a recent interview that he received no response to his message to Secretary Vance. “What it suggests to me is that people in the US government really actively worked not to have this knowledge, this evidence, in play.”

The Panama base mentioned above houses the headquarters of the US Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), the US Special Forces, the Army School of the America’s (SOA), among other facilities. Tens of thousands of Latin American officers were trained at the SOA, which used torture manuals released by the Pentagon and the CIA. American officers trained there have confirmed that the base is the centre of the hemispheric rightwing alliance. A military graduate of the School said, “The school was always a front for other special operations, covert operations.” An Argentine navy officer whose unit was organized into “kidnap commandos” (or “task forces”) in 1972, said that the repression was part of “a plan that responded to the Doctrine of National Security that had as its base the School of the Americas, directed by the Pentagon in Panama.”

An Uruguayan officer who admitted working for the CIA in the 1970s said that the CIA not only knew of Condor operations, but also supervised them.

Another amazing piece of recently released information is the admission by the CIA in September 2000, that DINA chief Manuael Contrearas was a CIA “asset” between 1974 and 1977, and that he had received a large unspecified payment for his services. During this period Contreras was known as “Condor One,” the leading organiser and champion of Operation Condor. The CIA did not divulge this information in 1978, when a US Federal Grand Jury indicted Contreras for his role in the Letelier-Moffitt assassinations. Contreras was sentenced to a prison term in Chile after the fall of the military junta for this crime. He was also convicted in absentia in Italy for the Leighton assassination attempt. The CIA says that it only asked Contreras about Condor after the assassinations of Letelier and Moffitt in 1976. This is hardly credible, when one considers that Condor informed the CIA of previous assassination plans. As well the CIA helped organise and train the DINA in 1974 and retained the services of Contreras as an asset for a year after the Letelier and Moffitt murders. The CIA destroyed the files on Contreras in 1991.

In other known cases of US agencies collaboration with Condor according to declassified US Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) reports, the CIA had played a key role in setting up the computerized links (Condortel) to coordinate the intelligence and operations units of the Condor states.

The USA, Condor Crimes and Conclusions

Declassified US documents make clear that US security officers saw Condor as a legitimate “counterterror” organization. One 1976 DIA report stated “ that one Condor team was structured like a US Special Team” and described Condor’s “joint counterinsurgency operations.” In this report it was noted that Latin American military officers bragged about their Condor activities to their US counterparts and among each other. Numerous other CIA, DIA, and State Department documents refer to Condor as a countersubversive organization and some describe its assassination role in a matter-of-fact way.

The documentary record is still fragmented and many files continue to be classified as secret, but we know that security forces in Latin America classified and targeted people for torture and murder on the basis of their political ideology (or even perceived ideology) rather than illegal acts.

These military regimes hunted down dissidents and leftists, union and peasant leaders, priests and nuns, intellectuals, students and teachers and other people not just guerrillas (who, under international law are also entitled to due legal process). These illegal military regimes defied international law and traditions of political sanctuary to carry out their ferocious state terror and destroy democratic opposition forces.

US training, doctrine, organizational models, technology transfers, weapons sales, finance, military aid and ideological attitudes profoundly shaped the security forces of the region. Viewed in this context, US national security strategists and their counterparts in Latin America regarded large sections of the society as potentially subversive. They adopted the Cold War National Security Doctrine, a political doctrine of internal war and counterrevolution that targeted “internal enemies.” During these years the military in one country after another ousted their civilian governments in a series of US-backed coups, even in such long standing democracies as Chile and Uruguay and installed repressive totalitarian regimes.

The new documentary evidence shows something of the USA’s central role in financing, training and collaborating with institutions that carried out torture, assassinations and coups in the name of national security. The CIA denies that it provided information to governments that would have resulted in people being killed. But the past history of the CIA as well as recent evidence show that this can’t be believed. The CIA aided these regimes because they were anti-socialist allies, and the ends were assumed to justify the means, resulting in appalling atrocities.

There is still a lot we don’t know. With only a couple of exceptions, those that kidnapped, tortured and killed have not been tried. The US National Security Archive has called on the US government and the intelligence community, the NSA, CIA, DIA and others to fully divulge their files on Condor. Hopefully with the continued pressure of lawyers and human rights activists we will get further information that will expose assistance to Condor and provide some truth and accountability of the US role in the Latin American repression.

War criminals like former generals Pinochet of Chile and Videla of Argentina and others must be tried for their human rights crimes. And it is evident that other leading figures in the US political, military and intelligence establishment like George Bush, Henry Kissinger, Richard Helms, Cyrus Vance belong in the same dock as the dictators.

In Latin America fragile civilian governments are struggling with the effects of decades of state terror excesses and control their still powerful military/security organizations. And while institutionalised torture and executions are not as widespread it has not ceased. In May 2000, the Committee on Hemispheric Security of the Organization of American States (OAS) reviewed 10 years of anti-subversion cooperation in Latin America. Many of the Latin American states have concluded new intelligence agreements among themselves and with the US aimed at greater cooperation against “terrorism.”

The Conference of American Armies (CAA) still meets regularly (in Argentina in 1995 and Ecuador in 1997). A military conference on intelligence services organized by the Bolivian Army was also held in March 1999 and attended by the USA, Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuala. These meetings and agreements confirm the continuing role of the Latin American armed forces in social control when faced with serious domestic opposition for social change.

With US agencies unwilling to reject security doctrines that rationalise violations of human rights as a legitimate means to an end and security in the Americas so important to the US, the USA’s public espousal of rights and freedoms does not mean democracy and human rights have priority.

It would not take much for another form of Operation Condor to rise again if the interests of the USA and its allies were challenged.

And so the continental scale covert extermination campaign that was Condor vanished from Latin America leaving an estimated toll of 35,000 people dead (more than 10,000 of them in Argentina) and leaving their grieving families still trying to learn what had happened to their disappeared love ones. And while Condor was proceeding, the rightist military regimes in each of these Latin American countries were carrying out mass murders of citizens that resulted in the deaths and disappearances of an estimated 350,000 people and the imprisonment and torture of hundreds of thousands of others. Millions of people also became exiles and political refugees.

“…our people want Pinochet brought to trial for the crimes he committed against humankind. Crimes that should never be forgotten, because that’s the first step towards forgiveness and oblivion. We do not have the right to forget or forgive; it would be an insult to every raped victim, to every person thrown into rivers or the ocean, it would be an insult to all those who were savagely tortured and then murdered by the military under general Pinochet’s command.”

— Tito Tricot, Chile 1999.

More here:

Dirty Wars, Part 1

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More Evidence that Catholics Can’t Be Trusted: The Dirty Wars – Part 1 – Argentina

April 17, 2010 4 comments

Consider the intensity of the commitment of these secret society members as “international defenders of the [Roman Catholic] Church.” It is hardly a secret that one of the most important American advances in “defending the [Roman Catholic] Church” by Catholic elitists was the creation of the Central Intelligence Agency [CIA]. The activities of the CIA go far beyond intelligence gathering of an international nature.

The CIA serves as an agency through which secret “assistance” to the Holy Mother [Roman Catholic] Church can be provided by secret American society members acting as her defenders:

During the CIA’s formative years, Protestants predominated… Somehow, however, [Roman] Catholics wrested control of the CIA’s covert-action section. It was no coincidence that some of the agency’s more grandiose operations were in [Roman] Catholic countries of Latin America and the [Roman] Catholic regime of South Vietnam.

For creating the Office of Strategic Services [OSS], the wartime predecessor to the CIA, and this special arrangement with the Vatican, General William “Wild Bill” Donovan was decorated in July 1944 by Pope Pius XII with the Grand Cross of the Order of Saint Sylvester, the oldest and most prestigious of papal knighthoods. This award has been given to only one hundred other men in history, who “by feat of arms or writing or outstanding deeds have spread the faith and have safeguarded and championed the [Roman Catholic] Church.”

Donovan did more to safeguard and champion the [Roman Catholic] Church than any other American, and he was rewarded for his services with the highest [Roman] Catholic award ever received by an American. No doubt, thousands of others have striven with their deeds for similar recognition. – American Democracy & the Vatican

The Argentine Dirty War

These are various articles forming a history of the Dirty War in Argentina which I, (Daniel Knight), have assembled on this page.

First, a brief overview of the Argentine Dirty War from globalsecurity.com:

Argentina Dirty War 1976 – 1983

The Dirty War, from 1976-1983, was a seven-year campaign by the Argentine government against suspected dissidents and subversives. Many people, both opponents of the government as well as innocent people, were “disappeared” in the middle of the night. They were taken to secret government detention centers where they were tortured and eventually killed. These people are known as “los desaparecidos” or “the disappeared.”

After the death of the controversial President Juan Peron in 1974, his wife and vice president, Isabel Peron, assumed power. However, she was not very strong politically and a military junta led a coup against her and removed her from office. This military junta maintained its grip on power by cracking down on anybody whom they believed was challenging their authority. Casualty counts from this war range from 10,000 to 30,000 people.

Although the military dictatorship carried out its war against suspected domestic subversives throughout its entire existence, it was ironically a foreign foe which brought the regime to an end. In the early 1980s, it became clear to both the world and the Argentine people that the government was behind the tens of thousands of kidnappings. The junta, facing increasing opposition over its human rights record, as well as mounting allegations of corruption, sought to allay domestic criticism by launching a successful campaign to regain Las Islas Malvinas (the Falkland Islands).

The Falkland Islands have been a source of contention between England, which administers them, and Argentina, which claims them, since 1820. The junta had thought that it could reclaim these islands relatively easily, that England wouldn’t mind their loss, and that the government would regain its popularity and control over its people. However, the government was wrong in its anticipations when 72 days after the invasion of the Islands, the British military won the war, having captured 9,800 Argentine POWs.

This unexpected loss was the final blow for the military regime, and in 1982, it restored basic civil liberties and retracted its ban on political parties. The Dirty War ended when Raul Alfonsin’s civilian government took control of the country on December 10, 1983.

Argentina remembers Dirty War
by James Reynolds
3/25/2001/06:47 GMT

Thousands of people demonstrated in Buenos Aires on Saturday to mark the 25th anniversary of the coup which brought in seven years of military rule.

They were commemorating the estimated 30,000 people who disappeared under the military regime.

Several former members of the military junta have been stripped of their immunity and now face possible charges of kidnapping the babies of political prisoners.

The coup was the start of Argentina’s Dirty War – a war by any means against those opposed to the regime. – More here.

Former Argentine military ruler indicted
by Clare Marshall
3/7/2001/04:33 GMT

Argentina’s former military leader, Jorge Videla, has been formally indicted over his alleged role in Plan Condor, an operation to hunt down and execute political opponents in the 1970s and 80s.

The case has been brought by several families who blamed General Videla for the death of their relatives in the covert operation.

The judge has ordered him to be put under preventative detention as an investigation continues.

In a 500-page report, a federal judge formally charged General Videla with being part of an aggravated illicit association to crush political rivals.

Plan Condor was a regional strategy, devised in the 1970s, by six Latin American countries, to quash opposition to military governments. – More here.

Argentina jails ‘dirty war’ medic
4/23/2005/10:06/GMT 11:06 UK

A survivor of the torture centre at the Navy School of Mechanics visits the building in Buenos Aires, Argentina
The Navy School of Mechanics became a notorious torture centre
An Argentine court has given a 10-year jail sentence to a doctor who helped steal babies from political prisoners held in a torture centre.

The offenses were committed during Argentina’s “dirty war” – the period of military rule between 1976 and 1983.

Jorge Luis Magnacco falsified the birth certificate of a baby born to a mother held in the centre, the court said.

The verdict said he had participated in the government’s plan of systematically eliminating left-wing opponents.

“It wasn’t enough for them to root out those who were considered a risk to the regime’s ideals… but they also eradicated those who in the future could harbour the same beliefs,” it said.

The adoptive mother and father of the child were also handed prison sentences by the court for adopting the child illegally.

The man, who worked for the Air Force, was given a seven-and-a-half year sentence and the woman a term of three years and one month. – More here.

Breaking the silence: the Catholic Church in Argentina and the ‘dirty war’
by Horacio Verbitsky
4/27/2005

Among the horrors of Argentina’s military rule that “disappeared” up to 30,000 citizens from 1976-83, the complicity of senior figures in the Catholic hierarchy is becoming known thanks to the investigations of writer Horacio Verbitsky. openDemocracy publishes an exclusive extract from his new book, The Silence.

Argentina between 1976 and 1983 was wracked by a “dirty war” in which successive military regimes hunted down, tortured and “disappeared” tens of thousands of citizens. The process had begun when Argentina’s already febrile politics started to split open in the mid-1970s. The military seized power in a coup from Isabelita Peron’s government, in the wake of an armed insurgency by Montoneros guerrillas.

The dictatorship that followed consigned thousands of Argentineans into military detention. Most were tortured; a few were released, many were eventually murdered. These “disappeared” numbered in all around 30,000.

In 1979, the Inter-American Human Rights Commission visited Argentina and inspected the most notorious detention centre, the Navy Mechanical School in Buenos Aires. They found no prisoners. As Horacio Verbitsky reveals in this extract from his extraordinary book, the prisoners had been dispersed, some of them to El Silencio, an island property that had belonged to an official of the Catholic archbishop of Buenos Aires.

The Catholic church’s complicity in torture and murder in Argentina should be no surprise; it had, after all, long precedents in extreme doctrines that came to Argentina (and elsewhere in Latin America) from the far right in France. But many details of Horacio Verbitsky’s account are revelatory, and his researches are a vital contribution to continuing efforts in Argentina to reach a full historical, legal and moral accounting for the violations of the “dirty war” years.

The River

“Transfer” was a word the prisoners feared, a word they all wanted to banish from their thoughts.

There were three weeks to the end of winter. The nights were still cold, but the sunshine brought a feeling of warmth returning, a good sign after all the hard months. They had been told they would be away until the end of the month. Some of them had told their families they would not be able to call or see them for several weeks. They had never been outside the Navy Mechanical School as a group before, and this novelty was disturbing. In the attic and basement of the officers’ mess that they were leaving, they had had enough time to get close. The links between them were recent but intense, cemented by the extreme situation they had shared, the outcome of which was still unclear.
Horacio Verbitsky’s new book “The Silence” has been longlisted for the 2005 Ulysses award for literary reportage

This time they were not called out by name and they were not lined up in the white-tiled corridor leading to the sickroom where they had been vaccinated. When the last of them climbed on board the bus, the officers’ mess was left empty to make room for a refurbishment. The aim was to deceive the members of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission, who were arriving with makeshift but accurate drawings of the installations.

The bathroom was to be completely altered, a marble worktop, stainless-steel sinks and a wall-to-wall mirror were to be fitted to make the place look less forbidding. Partitions were to be knocked down, and the metal rings in the floor removed. The staircase between the basement and the attic was to be closed off.

The bus headed north, parallel to the River Plate. With their casual clothes and sports bags they might have seemed like so many similar groups of light-hearted young men and women out on an excursion. They were well aware of the deceit and disguise.

They cannot have taken more than half an hour to reach the landing-stage. The guards identified the vehicle and let them through. Other prisoners were brought to the same spot by car, blindfolded.

They were put on board a coastguard launch, made of wood like the boats that carry passengers between all the islands, but with the seats removed. They were made to lie on the floor in the midst of bags, crates of food, radio equipment and weapons. The launch headed up the River Tuyú-Paré towards the Chaña-Miní.

Some of the prisoners estimate the journey took little more than half an hour; others, more accurately, say an hour and a half. In the 19th century, the liberal bourgeoisie in Argentina had called this area the Tigre, in honour of the Tigris region in Mesopotamia. Only the people who live on the islands of the delta can distinguish all the 350 rivers, streams and channels into which they are divided. A century and a half ago, Domingo Faustino Sarmiento described the shape of these islands as “the most capricious imaginable”, an area where “the surface is an illusion: not everything is land that appears to be so, and there is no way of knowing beforehand what is of any use.”

There was nothing out of the ordinary about the dock they tied up at; nor about the house, which they walked towards across worn wooden planks and a muddy path. The building must have been around eighty years old. It was the same as many others in the Paraná delta, with a pitched corrugated iron roof, floors, walls and partitions made of wood, and raised on stilts to protect it from the frequent floods. The eight large rooms must have covered an area of a little less than 200 square metres. Radio equipment was set up in one of the rooms. There was an electric generator and lots of tools. A gas water-heater supplied the bathroom and the kitchen, and there were four water tanks for drinking water.

A stand of poplars, another of willows, and a third of birches filled the cultivated part of the island. The rest needed clearing. A dense screen of thorn bushes grew wild everywhere, making it impossible to penetrate more than 500 metres inland from the river.

Another, smaller group made the same journey in the cold of early morning. They were frightened rather than excited. Handcuffed and blindfolded, some of them were taken in a large van, others were put into a lorry with a thick green canvas awning. When they reached the landing-stage, they heard the barking of dogs and the rattle of weapons. They were put into an open launch and covered with a canvas. If any of them moved they were beaten.

These prisoners were put into a second building, smaller and rougher than the first. Its external walls were made of corrugated iron, and the gap between them and the wooden stilts had been filled in to accommodate them. Each night one or two of them were taken to the big house for a bath, along dark earthen paths, their way lit by torches. Despite the primitiveness of the conditions, these prisoners were happy that they were left on their own in this house, where the guards refused to sleep. This was the first time they were able to talk freely to each other, and thanks to this, they discovered that one of them was missing.

The last prisoner to arrive was “The Old Lady”, so called because she was 52 years old. Unlike the others, she was brought on her own. When she reached the island she read on the wooden sign that it was called El Silencio.

This was where the last men and women kidnapped by the Navy Mechanics School Task Force spent a month in September 1979.

The Catholic City

Cardinal Antonio Caggiano and his secretary Bishop Emilio Grasselli worked together in the two decades when Argentina’s defining tragedy was prepared. The cardinal played an important role in those preparations.

Elements of the Catholic church elsewhere had long taken an interest in “counter-terrorism”. In 1958, an advance party of La Cité Catholique arrived in Argentina. This was an offshoot of the French Catholic monarchist movement known as L’Action Française, created by in 1889 by Charles Maurras, the brilliant French philosopher and later apologist for Fascism. La Cité Catholique brought a doctrine of counter-revolutionary warfare and torture, justified as part of Thomist dogmatism.

Jean Ousset, Maurras’s private secretary, established La Cité Catholique in 1946. The idea originated in the French armed forces. In his book Le Marxisme-leninisme, Ousset states that this enemy can only be successfully combated by a “profound faith, an unlimited obedience to the Holy Father, and a thorough knowledge of the Church’s doctrines”.

Charles Lacheroy, a member of La Cité Catholique, was the first person to reflect on the ideological and technical reasons behind the defeat of the French colonial army in Indochina in 1954. Another member, Roger Trinquier, theorised on the use of torture in Modern Warfare, a bible for its followers.

Another of Ousset’s recruits was the chief French expert in psychological warfare – Colonel Jean Gardes. Between them they developed a new concept, that of subversion. This conceived a protean, quintessential enemy who, rather than being defined by his actions, was seen as a force trying to subvert Christian order, natural law, or the Creator’s plan. For this reason, Ousset states that “the revolutionary apparatus is ideological before it is political, and political before it is military”. This explains the wide range of enemies he sought to define.

When the torture that French paratroopers used in Algeria during the bloody war of 1954-62 aroused protests and debate, French military chaplains calmed the officers’ troubled consciences. One of them, Louis Delarue, wrote a text that was distributed to all units:

“If, in the general interest, the law allows a murderer to be killed, why should it be seen as monstrous to submit a delinquent who has been recognised as such and is therefore liable to be put to death, to an interrogation which might be painful, but whose only object is, thanks to the revelations he may make about his accomplices and leaders, to protect the innocent? Exceptional circumstances call for exceptional measures”.

As success in the Algerian war gradually slipped away from the crusaders, Ousset decided to create branches of La Cité Catholique in other parts of the world. The first of these was in Buenos Aires in 1958. Its members had been part of the clandestine Organisation of a Secret Army (OAS), which brought terror to Paris itself and attempted to assassinate General Charles de Gaulle, whom they accused of treason for withdrawing French forces from Algeria and thus facilitating its independence from French rule.

Charles de Gaulle succeeded in destroying the OAS and had several of his former military colleagues shot. The OAS chaplain, Georges Grasset, organised the flight of many members of the organisation along a route which led from Paris to Madrid and finally to Buenos Aires. Grasset himself arrived in 1962 to take charge of the Argentine branch.

Horacio Verbitsky is a leading Argentinean investigative journalist. He was given an International Press Freedom Award by the Committee to Protect Journalists in 2001. Among his books are The Flight: Confessions of an Argentine Dirty Warrior (New Press, 2005) and The Silence: from Paulo VI to Bergoglio, the secret links between the Church and the Navy Mechanics School (Buenos Aires, Editorial Sudamericana, 2005), which uncovers the assistance and protection that the Catholic Church gave to Argentina’s brutal military dictatorship.

Horacio Verbitsky’s work is translated into English by Nicholas Caistor

Another founder of the OAS describes Grasset as “a true soldier-monk, a virulent anti-communist, who became the spiritual guide of the OAS. Thanks to him and the Cité Catholique network, of which he was one of the mainstays, several of the OAS leaders managed to find refuge abroad, particularly in Argentina”.

Jean Gardes reached Argentina in 1963. Forty years later, his daughter Florence showed the French journalist Marie-Monique Robin the notes her father had made. They show that, in March 1963, a naval lieutenant commander called Roussillon offered Gardes a deal: he would arrange Argentine government protection so that Gardes could settle in Neuquén; in exchange, he would deliver a series of lectures in the Navy Mechanics School on the counter-subversive techniques developed in France’s colonial wars.

Gardes, who soon established a small factory making paté de foie in Neuquén, did not ask to be paid or to have a fixed post, but only wanted to be an adviser. Gardes’ notes, as conserved by his daughter, coincide with those of the file on naval officer Federico Lucas Roussillon.

In 1955, the then Lieutenant Roussillon took part in the Catholic nationalist movement led by Eduardo Lonardi, which overthrew President Juan Domingo Perón. One of Lonardi’s general staff was Major Juan Francisco Guevara, who proposed that the password the conspirators should use should be: “God is Just”. By 1963 Roussillon was a member of the Naval Intelligence Service; he retired with the rank of captain in 1979, as Cardinal Caggiano was approaching the end of his life.

Soon after Gardes met Roussillon, the cadets at the Navy Mechanics School were also introduced to the world of counter-revolutionary warfare. In one of their courses they were shown the film The Battle of Algiers, an Italian-Algerian co-production made by the communist director Gillo Pontecorvo with the intention of exposing the methods used in Algeria by the French colonial army.

The film was subsequently used in counter-insurgency classes in Argentina and the United States to teach those same methods. The naval chaplain introduced the film and added a commentary from the religious point of view. Thirty-five years later, two of the cadets described the experience to Marie-Monique Robin:

Did the chaplain justify the methods used in The Battle of Algiers?

Anibal Acosta: Absolutely.

Including torture?

Julio César Urien: Yes. Torture was seen not as a moral problem but as a weapon.

Anibal Acosta: Part of the Catholic hierarchy supported this kind of practice. They showed us that film to prepare us for a kind of war very different from the regular war we had entered the Navy School for. They were preparing us for police missions against the civilian population, who became our new enemy.

The first edition of Le Marxisme-leninisme to be published outside France appeared in Buenos Aires on February [6,] 1961, translated and annotated by Juan Francisco Guevara (now a colonel) and with a prologue written by Cardinal Caggiano, who thanks the “men of La ciudad catolica of Argentina” for publishing Ousset’s book.

Marxism, continues Caggiano, is born of the negation of Christ and his Church, “put into practice by the Revolution”. He affirms that Ousset’s book is a training tool for the “fight to the death” to which “all the peoples of the western world, America and those in Asia who are still resisting, are in grave, imminent danger of falling victim”.

According to Caggiano, it is necessary to “prepare for the decisive battle” even though the enemies have not yet “taken up arms”. As often happens in a continent that imports ideas, the doctrine of annihilation preceded that of the revolutionary uprising. In order to reinforce his idea of a holy war, Caggiano compared this vigil to the one that preceded the 1571 battle of Lepanto “to save Europe from domination by the Turk”. The book includes a list of the papal bulls condemning communism; they were the cross which kept Satan at bay.

In October 1961, Caggiano and the then president of Argentina, Arturo Frondizi inaugurated the first course on counter-revolutionary warfare in the Higher Military College. One of the tasks set in the course was to explain this quotation from the bishop of Verden, Dietrick von Nieken in 1411:

“When the existence of the Church is threatened, it is no longer bound by the commandments of morality. When unity is the aim, all means are justified: deceit, treachery, violence, usury, prison and death. Because order serves the good of the community, and the individual has to be sacrificed for the common good.”

More here.

Spain court backs Argentine trial
7/22/2005/18:43 GMT/19:43 UK

Spain’s Supreme Court has ruled that the government must ask Argentina to extradite 39 former military officers for alleged human rights violations.

It said the refusal by Spain’s former conservative government to seek the extradition of the officers and also one civilian had been against the law.

Among the men is Jorge Videla – one of the heads of the military council that ruled Argentina between 1976 and 1983.

Spanish law allows trials for crimes against humanity committed abroad. – More here.

Bitter Memories of a ‘Dirty War’
by Michael Fox
12/8/2005

In 1976, in search of his 16-year-old daughter, Miguel Angel Isasa walks to Police Precinct Number One in the small Argentine town of Santa Fe and knocks on the door. It is answered by a man in a uniform who tells him she’s not there. Isasa demands to see the register of prisoners, but her name is not listed. And although he has reason to believe his daughter is in custody, there is nothing he can do. In fact, Patricia Isasa is inside, locked in an empty room, hooded and shackled, awaiting her turn to be beaten, raped and subjected to electric shock, another victim of Argentina’s “dirty war.”

Gareth Porter: The Bush Administration cites a 1994 bombing in Argentina to tar Iran as a sponsor of global terror. But a fresh probe finds no evidence of an Iran connection.

Robert Scheer: The CIA’s role in his assassination managed to turn a failed–and flawed–guerrilla fighter into an enduring symbol of resistance to oppression.

Naomi Klein & Avi Lewis: Almost entirely under the media radar, unemployed workers here are taking over bankrupt businesses and reopening them under democratic management.

Michael Fox: The current debate in the United States over the use of torture in the interrogation of terror suspects has prompted Patricia Isasa, a teenage torture victim in Argentina’s “dirty war,” to speak out against the School of the Americas, a longtime training ground for torture techniques.

Nearly thirty years later, Patricia Isasa stares out at the hundreds of activists gathered on November 19 at the Civic Center Ballroom in Columbus, Georgia, recalling her experiences as a torture victim.

“We’re here because we want to stop torture everywhere,” she says. “It’s incredible, but how is it possible that throughout all of Latin America it’s the same torture and it’s the same in Iraq? It’s because the School of the Americas is still here and they haven’t changed the manual. They haven’t changed their policy.”

Listening to Isasa is a cross-section of the 15,000 priests, nuns, torture survivors, students and other activists who have traveled to nearby Fort Benning for the annual weekend vigil at the controversial School of the Americas, whose graduates are said to be responsible for torture, killings and death-squad activity across Central and South America. This year’s protest was marked by increasing concern over the use of torture tactics on terrorism suspects by CIA and US military operatives. – More here.

Priest’s Life Sentence Draws Widespread Praise
by Marcela Valente
10/10/2007

BUENOS AIRES – The life sentence handed down to former police chaplain Christian Von Wernich, a symbol of the Argentine Catholic Church’s complicity with the 1976-1983 military dictatorship, was described Wednesday by Argentine President Nestor Kirchner as “a good example for the world.”

“There are still certain factions that have some power…but the verdict was an achievement in the administration of justice and is a great defeat for those sectors,” said Kirchner.

The spokesman for Argentina’s bishops’ conference, Father Jorge Oesterheld, said Wednesday that “we Catholics hope that Von Wernich will repent and ask for forgiveness.”

After a three month trial in which more than 60 witnesses testified, a court in La Plata, the capital of the province of Buenos Aires, found the 69-year-old priest guilty late Tuesday of being an accomplice to murder, torture and kidnapping.

Survivors, the families of victims and members of human rights groups burst out in applause and cheers when Judge Carlos Rozanski, who presided over the court, described Von Wernich’s crimes as “crimes against humanity committed within the context of the genocide that took place between 1976 and 1983.”

Human rights groups estimate that some 30,000 people were forcibly disappeared during the seven-year dictatorship.

The trial, which took place three decades after the crimes in question were committed, was the first against a clergyman accused of genocide, and exposed the Church hierarchy’s support for the regime’s “dirty war” against leftists, trade unionists and others deemed “subversive.”

Although many priests, nuns, Catholic lay workers and even bishops were among the regime’s victims, the Church hierarchy had close ties to the dictatorship.

Tati Almeyda, a member of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo Founding Line, celebrated the verdict and said it also “brought to justice a Church that was an accomplice, which 30 years on has not yet acknowledged the atrocities committed.”

“We did not think we would live to see this,” she added, visibly moved.

Shortly after the ruling was handed down, the Argentine bishops’ conference said it was “pained by the participation of a priest in these extremely grave crimes, according to the sentence.”

“We believe that the steps taken by the justice system in clarifying these events must serve to renew the efforts of all citizens towards reconciliation, and are a call to distance ourselves not only from impunity but from hatred and rancour as well,” said the statement, signed by the president of the bishops’ conference, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Buenos Aires.

He also said that any Catholic who participated in the “dirty war” “did so on his own responsibility, erring and sinning gravely against God, against mankind, and against his own conscience.”

Von Wernich’s superior, Bishop Martín Elizalde, who has the responsibility to decide whether or not to defrock the priest, merely stated Wednesday that “we are praying for him, for God to assist him and to grant him the necessary grace to comprehend and repair the damages caused.”

The statement, which made no mention of sanctions for the priest, apologised for the fact that “a priest, by action or omission, was so far from the requirements of the mission commended to him.”

Von Wernich’s defence attorneys had argued that there was “more doubt than certainty” as to his shared responsibility in human rights violations.

The priest, meanwhile, gave vague testimony that evaded the underlying question of his involvement. He said “a false witness is the devil, impregnated with malice,” and that “if we want to arrive at the truth, we must do so in peace.”

As chaplain for the notorious Buenos Aires provincial police, headed by then police chief Ramón Camps, Von Wernich held the rank of inspector and frequently visited the regime’s secret torture camps, encouraging political prisoners to provide information in order to avoid being tortured.

One of his victims was journalist Jacobo Timerman, the founder of the newspaper La Opinión, which was shut down by the dictatorship. His son, Argentina’s current consul in New York, Héctor Timerman, testified that his father remembered seeing the priest standing next to Camps while he was being tortured.

The former chaplain was also accused as an accomplice in the murders of seven members of the Peronist guerrilla organisation Montoneros, which was active in the 1970s. According to several witnesses, Von Wernich asked the victims’ families for money in exchange for a promise that he would get their loved ones out of the country. Families of at least three victims said they gave him 1,500 dollars.

But police officer Julio Emmed told the National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons in 1984 that the chaplain personally witnessed the murder of three of the seven victims.

Lawyer Marta Vedio with the Permanent Assembly for Human Rights told IPS that she was pleased with the verdict. “We were confident that the court would find Von Wernich guilty of the seven murders” for which he was convicted, she said.

In the trial, Vedio represented Mercedes Molina, the daughter of Ricardo Molina and Liliana Galarza. Her father, who had been held in the provincial police investigation unit, one of the clandestine prisons visited by Von Wernich, testified in the trial.

When Galarza was abducted, she was four months pregnant. She gave birth to Mercedes in captivity in 1976. The baby was baptised by Von Wernich, as he himself admitted and as the baptism certificate shows. She was then handed over to her grandparents.

Survivor Luis Velazco testified during the trial that when one desperate torture victim begged the priest “Father, please, I don’t want to die,” Von Wernich responded “Son, the lives of the men who are here depend on the will of God and the cooperation that you can offer. If you want to stay alive, you know what you have to do.”

Velazco also said the priest told other torture victims that “pain is a way of redeeming the evil within oneself.”

Expert witnesses included 1980 Nobel Peace Prize-winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel and former Jesuit priest Ruben Dri, a theologian and philosopher who was one of the founders of the Third World Priests Movement in the late 1960s.

Pérez Esquivel said that on various occasions he notified the Church leadership of the atrocities that were being committed during the dictatorship, but said he never received any response.

“With honourable exceptions, the Church was the accomplice of the military,” he told IPS.

In his book “The Silence”, Argentine journalist Horacio Verbitsky revealed that in 1976, two months after the coup, the Argentine bishops’ conference met to deliberate, and a small group of bishops said they were aware of cases of kidnapping, torture and murder.

But when a vote was held, only 19 bishops voted in favour of publicly speaking out against the human rights crimes while 38 opted for silence.

Verbitsky, who has written other books on the ties between the Catholic Church and the regime, argued that unlike in other countries of Latin America, the Church in Argentina has traditionally identified itself with the elites. – More here.

Argentine Dirty War Victims Cautiously Embrace Trials, Hope for More
by Sam Ferguson
11/28/2009

Buenos Aires, Argentina – In July 1977, when Ana Maria Careaga was just sixteen years old, she was kidnapped off a major intersection in Buenos Aires by forces from Argentina’s last dictatorship. She was taken to what she later found out was “Club Atletico,” a torture center and secret prison in a federal police station just blocks from the bustling downtown. According to court documents, for three and a half months, she was savagely tortured – beaten, hung by her wrists and ankles, and electrocuted. According to Careaga’s testimony in court documents, her guards continued to beat her even after she told them she was pregnant.

On Tuesday, November 24, more than 33 years after the dictatorship took power and forcibly disappeared between 9,000 and 30,000 citizens like Careaga in Argentina’s “Dirty War,” 15 defendants accused of operating the Atletico and two other secret prisons appeared in court.

The defendants, mostly retired police officials, have been charged on an array of counts against 181 victims, including kidnapping, torture and murder. All of the crimes took place between 1976 and 1979, the most repressive period during the dictatorship’s rule, which lasted until 1983.

The Atletico case is the latest in a wave of actions against the last dictatorship since Argentina’s Congress repealed a series of amnesty laws in 2003. The laws had shielded officials of the dictatorship from prosecution. Since the amnesty laws were repealed, however, it has taken prosecutors and judges years to move forward with cases, as they stall in the pretrial phase.

Though her day in court has finally come, Careaga has mixed emotions. Twenty six years after the return of democracy, she says “now we can have justice.” But, she is frustrated that the defendants have not been charged for the crimes committed against all their suspected victims. “There are a lot of people who were kidnapped, but they aren’t judging … these repressors [for these crimes].” – More here.

Argentine ‘Dirty War’ defendants on trial
from PressTV.com
12/28/2009/7:05:31 GMT

Argentina puts more than a dozen former generals and admirals on trial over human rights abuses during the country’s dictatorship between 1976 and 1983.

The 15 septuagenarian defendants, standing trial before a three-judge panel, were officers and policemen who ran clandestine torture centers known as the Athletic Club, the Bank and Olimpo, the Washington Post said on Monday.

The case is the latest in a string of proceedings seeking to deliver justice for the estimated 30,000 people killed by state security services during the “Dirty War,” including some who were thrown from airplanes after being tortured and sedated.

Since 2005, Argentine prosecutors have so far managed to convict 60 defendants over violation of human rights through ordinary penal law and the criminal courts, charging 627 more former military officers, policemen and officials while a total of 325 cases are open nationwide.

In the 1980s, a “full-stop” law ended investigations and a “due obedience” law absolved those who said they were following the orders of superiors.

In the 1990s, President Carlos Menem pardoned those who had been convicted. But in 2005, Argentina’s Supreme Court withdrew the amnesties and prosecutions resumed.

Among the defendants on trial now are some of the dictatorship’s most notorious figures, including former Gen. Jorge Rafael Videla, who led the junta that governed after a 1976 coup, and Argentina’s last dictator, Reynaldo Bignone. There is also Alfredo Astiz, nicknamed “Blond Angel of Death.”

More trials are due next year for those charged with involvement in “Operation Condor,” in which dictatorships across much of South America cooperated in hunting down and killing leftists.

The courts have requested declassified US cables that detail what the United States knew about Argentine military operations in the war against leftist guerrilla groups.

Argentina’s ambassador to Washington, Hector Timerman, has been reportedly petitioning the CIA and other agencies to open their files on Argentina. – Source

Argentina reveals secrets of ‘dirty war’
Irish Sun
1/29/2010

Buenos Aires – Argentina has disclosed the secrets of the ‘dirty war’ waged against the left by the country’s military regime 1976-83.

The secret files of Battalion 601, described as the ‘brain’ that coordinated killings, kidnappings and other abuses, contains the identities of both military and civilian personnel who played a role in the repression.

The declassification of the documents began with an order from Argentine President Cristina Fernandez Jan 1.

The documents presented before the federal Judge Ariel Lijo for review contain data on 3,952 civilians and 345 army personnel who worked for Battalion 601, said Ramon Torres Molina, director of the National Archive of Memory.

The battalion’s civilian operatives included everyone from college professors to people who worked as porters, concierges and maintenance men at apartment buildings.

They were used to collect information and to infiltrate guerrilla groups and human rights organisations, with those assigned to infiltration duties given aliases with initials matching those of their real names.

The civilian agents were classified by grades corresponding to military ranks and the most proficient could aspire to the equivalent of colonel.

Torres, who refused to divulge any names until Judge Lijo finishes reviewing the documents, said the intelligence structure was created in the early 1970s and that it survived until 2000, when Battalion 601 was disbanded and its remaining 500 or so civilian operatives dismissed.

Some former commanders of the unit have died and others have been criminally charged, but many military and civilian veterans of the unit are at large, the archive director said.

The archive continues to thumb through more than 4 million digitised pages and thousands of dossiers in search of information about the crimes of a regime that left more than 30,000 ‘disappeared’. – Source

Orphaned in Argentina’s dirty war, man is torn between two families
by Juan Forero
2/11/2009

BUENOS AIRES — Alejandro Rei refused to accept the truth, even after the man he thought was his father pulled the car over one night and told him he had been adopted.

“You are the son of the disappeared,” Victor Rei told him, his eyes tearing up.

Alejandro did not know it then, but Victor would have had intimate knowledge: He had been a military intelligence officer, a cog in a ferocious military machine that in the 1970s smashed two rebel groups in Argentina by kidnapping and torturing suspected guerrillas and dissidents. The victims were shot and buried in unmarked graves, or sedated and hurled alive from airplanes over the south Atlantic.

In the mournful lexicon of Latin American dictatorship, they were the “disappeared.” And on that night in 2004, Alejandro was hearing that his real parents had been victims of the military junta during the “dirty war.”

For nearly five years, though, Alejandro would be torn between recognizing the fate of his real parents and his loyalty to the people who raised him.

Victor’s revelation was the beginning of a long, tortuous process that would include police raids, DNA tests, a trial that put the father Alejandro had known behind bars and, finally, a rocky reunion with the biological family that had wanted him back since 1977. – More here with slides.

Unearthing mysteries of Argentina’s ‘Dirty War’
by Brian Byrnes
12/17/2009/9:50 A.M. EST

Buenos Aires, Argentina (CNN) — Laura Feldman was kidnapped by the Argentine military on February 18, 1978. The 18-year-old was never seen by her family again, a victim of the ruthless regime that ruled Argentina from 1976 to 1983. For 31 years, her sister Ana searched for answers — and her remains.

“Laura was politically active. She was young and had her ideals. But she didn’t deserve to die,” says Ana, 51.

In 2004, bones believed to be Laura’s were found in a mass grave in a cemetery outside Buenos Aires. After a series of genetic tests confirmed her identity, Ana finally received her sister’s bones in April 2009.

“I can now speak in the past tense: my sister was executed,” says Ana. “And now that I have her remains, I can mourn her — something her murderers tried to deny me,” she says.

Ana has her sister’s remains today because of the efforts of the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team — known by its Spanish acronym as EAAF — a non-profit, NGO based in Buenos Aires that uses science to solve the mysteries of Argentina’s “Dirty War,” a period during which at least 13,000, and perhaps as many as 30,000 people, were “disappeared.”

The “Dirty War” is still very much alive in Argentines’ collective conscience. Immunity laws granted to former military leaders were overturned in recent years, and now many are standing trial for human rights violations, including the country’s last military dictator, former Gen. Reynaldo Bignone, 81, who went on trial this month along with five others on torture charges. – More here with video.

Argentina’s Dirty War Still Haunts Youngest Victims
by Juan Forero
2/27/2010

From 1976 to 1983, a vicious military dictatorship ruled Argentina. Among its crimes: taking hundreds of babies from their biological parents — political prisoners who then “disappeared.” A group of determined grandmothers has been seeking to identify these stolen orphans.

Alejandro Rei’s life was one of middle-class comforts in a leafy suburb of Buenos Aires. There were cookouts, rugby games, a job running a gas station and what seemed like a normal family life shared with his doting parents, Victor Rei and Alicia Arteach.

More World News The truth, though, came barreling through the door, thanks to a group of determined grandmothers in Argentina. They have searched for the babies their children delivered while held as political prisoners of the country’s 1970s-era military dictatorship.

In the depravity that marked the period, the young mothers were killed after giving birth and the babies were handed over to military families to raise.

The man Alejandro believed to be his biological father, Victor Rei, had been a cog in the ferocious military machine that ran Argentina back then, an intelligence officer whose job had been to root out subversives in Argentine society.

DNA evidence would reveal that Alejandro’s birth mother was a blond-haired, oval-eyed beauty named Liliana Fontana.

The Truth Revealed

In recent years, investigators probing war crimes committed by the 1976-1983 military dictatorship determined that Fontana and her partner, Pedro Sandoval, had been detained, tortured and then killed, though their bodies have never been found.

Investigators believed that Fontana had left behind the baby she had been carrying when she was first arrested in mid-1977. That baby was given to Victor Rei and his wife during a night-time rendezvous in early 1978. They named the boy Alejandro.

In March 2004, the man Alejandro thought was his father became the target of a government investigation. The son said he tried to shut out the past. He also vowed to help defend the parents he had always known.

His father told him that they had taken him into their care to save him from certain death. He told Alejandro that the military had orders to kill the babies of those who had been imprisoned.

“I weighed everything that I had lived in my 26 years,” Alejandro told NPR in a recent interview. “I thought what I had received was a real love, a real affection, and so I was determined that I would defend them as much as I could.”

Torn Between Two Families

At the same time, an organization called the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, a human rights group made up of women who had lost their adult children to the dictatorship, was prodding judicial authorities to determine who had been Alejandro’s real mother.

The group, formed in the midst of the military junta, gets anonymous tips about young people believed to be the children of those who vanished while in military detention. They then use investigators and court orders to ferret out the truth.

In Alejandro’s case, they had collected his birth certificate and saw that it had been signed by a doctor who had frequently put his name on false birth certificates, helping several military families adopt babies taken from doomed mothers.

By May 2004, authorities had enough evidence to charge Victor Rei with kidnapping and falsifying documents. He was locked up in Campo de Mayo, which coincidentally had been the military base where investigators believe Fontana had probably given birth.

In 2006, using a court order, the police raided Alejandro’s apartment and came away with his comb, toothbrush and other personal belongings. On July 14 of that year, they announced that the DNA gleaned from those belongings showed that he was the biological son of Fontana and Sandoval.

Weeks later, in a judge’s courtroom, Rei met his grandparents and other relatives. But recalling the saga, he said that he felt guilt — guilt that Victor Rei and Alicia Arteach were facing jail time — and annoyance that his life had been turned upside down.

“I began to carry a weight called guilt, and I blamed myself for all this,” said Alejandro, now 32.

For the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, and others working to uncover the crimes of the past, the case has been important. More than 500 babies were stolen during the dictatorship and 400 remain unaccounted for.

Alan Iud, a lawyer for the Grandmothers group, says the Rei case is one of many that shows that the theft of babies was systematic.

“For me, it’s impossible to imagine something more evil than this,” Iud said.

Time Is Running Out

In recent years, because of the Grandmothers group, 100 babies — now adults in their early 30s — have been found. The search continues, and the Grandmothers group has help, among them President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, whose government has thrown its support behind the effort to uncover the crimes of the past.

The Grandmothers organization also has a powerful tool: a new law that speeds up the identification process by forcing young adults thought to be the children of the disappeared to provide DNA samples.

Driving the effort is an urgent reality: the grandmothers are dying off.

“We do not have time to keep waiting, because we are all very old,” said Estela Barnes de Carlotto, 82. She is president of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo and is searching for her daughter’s son. “There are grandmothers who are 90 or older who have not yet found their grandchildren.” – More here.

Other references:

“>The Dirty War (1976-1983)

Lecture, photographs examine Argentina’s ‘Dirty War’
4/15/2010/6 P.M.

Sixty-three pictures, nine photographers, seven years of state-sponsored violence and one Regents’ Professor will tell the story of Argentina’s “Dirty War,” which will conclude the spring 2010 Humanities Lecture Series. …

The junta targeted women, children, homosexuals, Jews, students, activists and trade unionists as domestic subversives and were illegally arrested, incarcerated, killed and dumped in unmarked graves. Others were pushed out of planes (“death flights”) into the Río de la Plata or Atlantic Ocean to drown. Casualty counts from this war range from 10,000 to 30,000 people. – More here.

Part 2: Operation Condor.

Testimonies and reports of the missing.

Video Documentary:
Part 1 | Part 2 | : Part 3

Many Freemasons are apart of the Catholic Church’s priesthood despite public condemnation of Freemasonry by the Popes.

More on Argentina:

Religion in Argentina.

A timeline of “key” events in Argentina’s history from the BBC.

Tribe starving to death in Argentina (August 12, 2007)
Argentina’s Economic Collapse

LINK TO PART 2