The government revealed Thursday that the military engaged in torture techniques at a commando training camp years after Argentina's return to democracy, a disclosure that human rights organizations described as the tip of an iceberg.
President Nestor Kirchner ordered an investigation after being shown a series of photographs "in which army personnel were shown committing despicable acts on naked people in a desert field." "The high-impact photographs were taken during a army commando course in 1986 in a garrison in Cordoba. All the individuals shown in them were part of the military ground forces and most of them have been identified," the statement said.
The photographs date back to 1986, during the administration of President Raul Alfonsin, but army chief Gen. Roberto Bendini said the practice continued until 1994, when it was ended under Carlos Menem.
The pictures depict training sessions at the La Cancha army base in the central province of Cordoba, where people said to be volunteers from the three branches of the armed forces are shown being tortured with techniques similar to those used during the 1976-1983 military dictatorship.
According to former army chief Martin Balza, the ill-treatment took place during a portion of the commando course devoted to preparing trainees for what they might face at the hands of an enemy during interrogation.
Balza, now Argentina's ambassador to Colombia, said the "methodologies" of the course were changed in 1990 to eliminate this approach.
But human rights groups condemned the teaching of "aberrant (practices) characteristic of state terrorism" and demanded that the government and the courts carry out a thorough investigation.
"This is the tip of an iceberg. It's one of the many things that cause us to never cease to be amazed," Tati Almeida, head of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, told EFE. "These photos of volunteers, all of them sick, shows that this is how they learned to torture, like they have tortured our children," she said, referring to those brutalized under the military regime. Almeida's group, founded by mothers of some of the "disappeared" of the 1976-1983 era, said 40 volunteers attended each commando course. "It remains to be seen if there are people on active duty who were not identified by human rights entities as participants in repression during the dictatorship," Estela Carlotto, leader of the Grandmothers of the Plaza del Mayo, told EFE. "Now there's an entire investigation ahead of us, in which we're going to accompany President Kirchner," she said.
Kirchner met Thursday with Bendini, Defense Minister Jose Pampuro and Jaime Garreta, secretary of military affairs, to review the case. The president also met with the country's leading human rights groups, revealing all the details known so far. After learning of the disclosures, former President Alfonsin - the first elected leader after the restoration of democracy - said he knew nothing of the torture at the camp in Cordoba.
"It's the first news I have of it," he said to the DyN news agency, emphasizing his own record as a "crusader against torture."