Sunday, September 13, 2015

Declassified Malvinas documents reveal true horror of 1982 war

Recently declassified Argentine military documents pertaining to the Malvinas War have shed new light on the torture suffered by Argentine soldiers during the conflict and the steps taken by authorities to ensure that the public did not find out about the abhorent practices.

Files distributed to the Centre of Former Combatants in the Malvinas Islands (CECIM ) include the forms that returning soldiers were forced to complete when they came back to the mainland after the war.

Soldiers used those forms to detail their health status and note how they had been treated while they fought against British servicemembers on the islands.

Many of these documents describe brutal punishments such as mock burials meted out when conscripts left their positions in search of food. Hunger was also a frequent complaint in the trenches, as well as frost-bite affecting toes and feet.

In May, the CECIM filed a complaint with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) over the torture they reportedly suffered at the hands of senior officers during the 1982 conflict. The CECIM made the filing after the Supreme Court closed the door — for the second time in less than three months — to investigate the abuses suffered by conscripts and junior officers during the war with Great Britain.

“There have been 33 years of impunity for the practices carried out by the last dictatorship in 1982. Our society needs to know what happened,” Ernesto Alonso, CECIM leader, told the Herald at the time. In conversation with state-run Télam news agency this week, Alonso expressed optimism that the new documents will be of interest to the courts.

“These documents lift the veil on the events that were hidden for years by the Armed Forces and will be of great use to the courts,” said Alonso to Télam. In the coming days the documentation will be forwarded on to federal courthouses located in Río Grande, Tierra del Fuego province, which has jurisdiction over cases involving the Malvinas War.

The Attorney General’s office and the IACHR will also be receiving copies of the documents, which indicate that many conscripts suffered from malnutrition and that one of the punishments used by officers required conscripts to be bound to stakes and pulled on opposing ends.

The documents were declassified following an executive decree signed by President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.

An example of that abuse cited by Télam included testimony from a first lieutenant that indicated an officer “bound his hands and feet to his back, placing him face down on the wet sand on the beach from 9am until 5pm” and more reports of a sergeant who had to undergo surgery after being kicked in the testicles.

  • Six months after the conclusion of the war then-Lieutenant General Cristino Nicolaides was named commander-in-chief of the Argentine Army and he indicated that any reported abuse was to be dealt with as a disciplinary problem, away from public scrutiny, and not a matter relating to human rights abuse.
  • In a memo classified as secret, Nicolaides ordered that internal investigations that any abuse or torture be considered “disciplinary faults” and that in the case that the severity of the reports made it impossible to do so that he be informed personally.

“In the cases that it be shown that there are violations of the applicable resolution they will not surpass the disciplinary sphere, bearing in mind caution and and the necessary confidentiality,” Nicolaides wrote.

“The documentation proves that there was intelligence planning to prevent the testimony by soldiers from becoming public when they returned to the continent,” Alonso said. Following the withdrawal from the islands the military dictatorship was on weak political ground and keen on avoiding a further blow.

“There is a great deal of documentation. In this first investigation of the most emblematic cases we handed over 700 documents, where the testimony — classified as secret — backs up the abuse as reported by the victims or by comrades who narrate what they saw,” said Stella Segado, director of the human rights department within the Ministry of Defence.

Segado’s department has been digitizing, curating and establishing an inventory of the declassified documents that also include intelligence reports, briefs filed by defence attachés and logistical plans. As some of the information in the archives is sensitive and contains personal information, those seeking to consult the originals archives are required to register and to ensure that such information is not published.

The files made available by the Defence Ministry may end up giving a fresh push to the CECIM request for prosecution of the officers that carried out the torture. On February 19, Chief Justice Ricardo Lorenzetti, Deputy Chief Justice Elena Highton de Nolasco and their colleagues Carlos Fayt and Juan Carlos Maqueda rejected an extraordinary request filed by CECIM that sought to reactivate a probe into cases of torture committed by Argentine officers, which has been in progress since 2009. The case implicated former military leader Jorge Eduardo Taranto, among others.

That resolution angered President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner — who during her March 1 inauguration of the Congressional year suggested taking the case to an international court. The group of veterans decided to file a new request before the Supreme Court to revisit its decision, which again rejected their appeal.
 ** Herald staff with Télam


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