Global Policy Forum

Secret Report on Testimony


By Gustavo González

Inter Press Service
November 10, 2004

Sexual abuse, including rape using animals, burns from cigarettes, welding torches and acid, ripping off fingernails with pliers, immersion in water, cooking oil or petroleum, and being forced to watch other detainees, often family members, being tortured.

This partial list of torture methods used under the Chilean dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990) also includes beatings, mock executions, lengthy detentions with blindfolds or hoods, electric shock to the genitals and other sensitive parts of the body, as well as the bursting of eardrums using loud noises. The descriptions are contained in a report presented Wednesday to Chilean President Ricardo Lagos by a special commission that spent a year gathering testimony from 35,000 torture victims. But Chilean society cannot yet read it.

As soon as Lagos received the report from the commission headed by Bishop Sergio Valech, a debate broke out on whether the names of the torturers should be made public and whether they should be taken to court as part of the process of reparations for the victims. The report will be kept secret until the president decides whether it should be partially or totally made public and until he makes an announcement on reparations for the victims, said presidential spokesman Francisco Vidal.

Nevertheless, it has come out that the three-volume report contains eight chapters of testimony on the appalling practices used by the secret police and military and police bodies against opponents of the Pinochet regime. After the Sep. 11, 1973 coup d'etat that overthrew the democratically elected government of socialist president Salvador Allende, the systematic use of torture formed part of the methods used by the de facto regime to maintain political control.

The National Commission on Political Imprisonment and Torture, which was created on Nov. 11, 2003, compiled the testimony of 35,000 former political prisoners in 110 towns and cities around the country, to determine to what extent the secret police, the military and the police participated in the torture. IPS was told that the report also discusses the psychological damages suffered by the torture victims, as well as the material damages, in terms of their social and labour reinsertion, or exile in the case of the thousands who chose to flee to another country rather than live in constant fear. The practice of torture was widely applied. Among the victims were many people who were not even politically active, but were detained and abused as part of a strategy of mass intimidation under a regime of state terrorism, the commission found.

The Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional (DINA) secret police that answered directly to Pinochet, and the Central Nacional de Informaciones (CNI) that replaced DINA in 1978, as well as military intelligence bodies share the greatest responsibility for the practice of torture. The report also identifies at least 18 army regiments where political prisoners were systematically maltreated, as well as seven navy institutions, including the Esmeralda training ship.

Army commander Gen. Juan Emilio Cheyre accepted institutional responsibility last week for the dictatorship's human rights violations, but the other branches of the military have not followed suit.

On Wednesday, after the report was presented to the president, navy commander Admiral Miguel Angel Vergara said he would "put his hands in the fire" (vouch for) the 25,000 men under his command as well as the previous generations of members of the navy, who he said had "nothing to do with" the human rights abuses. He added, however, that if the report presented Wednesday confirms denunciations by the London-based Amnesty International and other human rights groups that torture was practised in the Esmeralda, he will make a public acknowledgement and will be profoundly sorry.

The Ethical Commission Against Torture, a local non-governmental organisation, stated in a communique that at least 1,200 torture centres operated in Chile under the Pinochet regime, staffed by around 3,600 agents, who "should be put at the disposal of the courts." Human rights attorney Hugo Gutiérrez agreed that adequate compensation for the victims should include taking torture cases before the courts, an initiative that apparently does not figure among the measures that Lagos will announce at the end of the month.

For her part, Pamela Pereira, also a human rights attorney and a high-ranking member of the co-governing Socialist Party, said she was not happy with the fact that the report is being kept secret until Lagos authorises its release. "I think that from a methodological point of view, it was a mistake not to immediately make it available to the public, because I believe the country has reached a sufficient level of maturity to read a report of this kind at the same time as the president," she said.

The Association of Relatives of the Detained-Disappeared (AFDD) publicly expressed its regret over not being invited by Lagos to the ceremony presided by Bishop Valech, where the commission's report was officially handed over. At the same time, the group called for "comprehensive reparations" for the victims of torture.

Mireya Garcí­a, vice president of the association, called the presentation of the report a "historic step", because it officially establishes, for the first time ever, that there were political prisoners and detainees tortured in Chile under the Pinochet regime. "We hope that they will now adopt all of the measures needed for justice to be served, and for symbolic, legal and material reparations, and above all, we want this report to become an integral part of the education of new generations, so that nothing like this ever happens again in Chile," said Garcí­a.

Former colleagues of Pinochet, like retired general Guillermo Garí­n, once the deputy commander in chief of the Chilean army, took a much more negative view of the report. "They are digging into old wounds that should have been left to heal," he said. "The DINA never had a policy of torture," maintained retired general Manuel Contreras, the former head of this Chilean secret police force, who was second in command only to Pinochet.

Retired army brigadier Miguel Krassnoff, considered by human rights organisations to be one of the DINA's leading proponents of torture, stated to the press, "I never received orders to torture anyone." Both Contreras and Krassnoff, along with another two former DINA directors, were notified this Wednesday by Judge Alejandro Solí­s that they have been convicted by a court of first instance for their involvement in the kidnapping in December 1974 of Luis San Martí­n, a member of the Movement of the Revolutionary Left (MIR), who remains "disappeared" until today. Solí­s is recommending a 15-year sentence for Contreras, 10 years for retired brigadier Raúl Iturriaga, and three years each for Krassnoff and retired brigadier Gerardo Urrich.

A 1991 report by a truth commission found that 3,000 people were murdered or "disappeared" by the Pinochet regime. However, that report did not specifically discuss torture victims who survived.

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