Secret list reveals fate of Dirty War prisoners

Two words sum up Argentina’s national stance towards the atrocities committed under the 1976-1984 military dictatorship: "Nunca más" — never again. But while the junta remains firmly in the past, the effects of its clandestine crimes remain potent in the present. The national outcry, the investigations conducted by the Argentine National Commission on the Disappeared, and even the ...

DANIEL GARCIA/AFP/Getty Images
DANIEL GARCIA/AFP/Getty Images
DANIEL GARCIA/AFP/Getty Images

Two words sum up Argentina's national stance towards the atrocities committed under the 1976-1984 military dictatorship: "Nunca más" -- never again. But while the junta remains firmly in the past, the effects of its clandestine crimes remain potent in the present. The national outcry, the investigations conducted by the Argentine National Commission on the Disappeared, and even the tireless marching and protesting by mothers of "desaparecidos" on Mayo Square have failed to yield information on what happened to the estimated 30,000 victims of state-sponsored abuse.

But last month, after being hidden beneath floorboards for 34 years, a secret list emerged to give some Argentinians what they thought they might never get: answers.

Throughout its rule, the military junta enforced a meticulous policy of destroying all their documents. But apparently it wasn't meticulous enough: one accused subversive named Juan Clemente escaped from his detention center with 259 pages of the military government's records. Clemente feared divulging the papers would cost him his life, and so kept them hidden underneath his house for over three decades; but a new safeguard from the witness protection program and a sense of urgency elicited from the imminent verdict of the Tucuman trial has motivated him to bring them forward.

Two words sum up Argentina’s national stance towards the atrocities committed under the 1976-1984 military dictatorship: "Nunca más" — never again. But while the junta remains firmly in the past, the effects of its clandestine crimes remain potent in the present. The national outcry, the investigations conducted by the Argentine National Commission on the Disappeared, and even the tireless marching and protesting by mothers of "desaparecidos" on Mayo Square have failed to yield information on what happened to the estimated 30,000 victims of state-sponsored abuse.

But last month, after being hidden beneath floorboards for 34 years, a secret list emerged to give some Argentinians what they thought they might never get: answers.

Throughout its rule, the military junta enforced a meticulous policy of destroying all their documents. But apparently it wasn’t meticulous enough: one accused subversive named Juan Clemente escaped from his detention center with 259 pages of the military government’s records. Clemente feared divulging the papers would cost him his life, and so kept them hidden underneath his house for over three decades; but a new safeguard from the witness protection program and a sense of urgency elicited from the imminent verdict of the Tucuman trial has motivated him to bring them forward.

Certainly with the lack of available evidence, the incriminating notes — easily attributed to junta operatives by the flagrant signatures on each page — will bolster the case against the four Dirty War perpetrators on trial. The new evidence could even be to thank for a more just verdict come July 8.

But perhaps the list has delivered an even greater form of justice: some reprieve for those left oblivious as to the fates of their abducted loved ones. Families of the Dirty War’s "desaparecidos" have flooded into the courts to examine the papers — even the sadistic notes on intelligence operations, torture sessions, and the victims’ decrepit physical states.

The families were also able to access the pages in which the junta took stock of their victims, recording their names in the left columns and the outcome of their detentions in the right. For some of those reading, two letters beside their loved one’s name — DF, or "disposition final" — may bring both heartbreaking finality and bittersweet relief.

Sylvie Stein is an editorial researcher at Foreign Policy.

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