Chilean Judge Julio Miranda of the Valparaíso Court of Appeals formally presented last week an accusation against 10 retired navy officers for the kidnapping and torture of Anglo-Chilean priest Michael Woodward.
“Hopefully with this, the Navy will apologize to Chile for the offences they committed,” said Javier Rodriguez, spokesman for friends of Woodward’s family. “With this, justice was done, not just for Miguel, but for all those who were disappeared by the navy”.
In mid-September 1973, Michael Woodward, a priest in the leftist liberation- theology tradition, returned from Santiago to his home in Cerro Placeres, mere days after the Sept. 11 coup d’état led by Gen. Augusto Pinochet. According to Judge Miranda, he was greeted by marines, arrested without warrant, held at one of the makeshift torture and detention centres set up at Federico Santa Maria University, and later transferred to the Naval War Academy.
From the academy, Woodward was transferred to the naval training vessel Esmeralda, which also functioned as a makeshift interrogation and torture centre. Onboard, he underwent a physical examination by a doctor. From there, the priest was transferred to the naval hospital, where he is believed to have died.
At each location, Woodward is believed to have undergone continuous interrogation and torture. After his detention at the naval hospital, “all physical trace” of him disappears, despite a medical death certificate signed by a hospital doctor on site.
Prior to Judge Miranda’s statement, much of the details surrounding Woodward’s fate have been revealed through the efforts his sister, Patricia Bennett. An article in The Guardian on Bennett’s investigation describes how a senior naval officer admitted having transferred Woodward from the Esmeralda to the naval hospital due to his severe internal injuries resulting from torture on the training ship.
The information gleaned through Bennett’s determined independent research is actually credited as one of the main reasons behind the arrest, in 2008, of 19 naval officers believed to have been involved in the case.
The ‘Esmeralda’ continues today as a training vessel. Demonstrations in solidarity with Woodward’s family are commonplace at ports where the ‘Esmeralda’ moors. The ‘Esmeralda’ send-off for a long training voyage mid May was met by protesters who approached in motorboats. The ‘Esmeralda’ had to be escorted to sea by a naval craft.
By Ivan Ebergenyi – The Santiago Times