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When Thousands Vanished

By Linda Robinson Published: May 09, 1993

DOSSIER SECRETO Argentina's Desaparecidos and the Myth of the "Dirty War " !y Martin Ed"in Andersen I##ustrated $%& pp !ou#der' Co#o ( West)ie" *ress C#oth' +,- *aper' +%. -, W/E0 Rau# A#fonsin "as e#ected president of Argentina in %-12' 3ar4ing the return of de3ocracy after years of 3i#itary dictatorship' he created a co33ission headed 5y the Argentine "riter Ernesto Sa5ato and charged it "ith producing a co3prehensi)e record of the atrocities co33itted 5y the 3i#itary during the years fro3 %-., to %-.-' the 3ost intense period of the infa3ous "dirty "ar " Tit#ed "0unca Mas" 6"0e)er Again"7' the co33ission report co3pi#ed horrifying e)idence of so3e -'888 "disappeared" persons Most e9perts agree that thousands 3ore "ere )icti3s of ar5itrary arrest' detention and torture Martin Ed"in Andersen's "Dossier Secreto" is a sort of "0unca Mas" "ith a thesis :i4e the Argentine report' this 5oo4 5y a for3er Argentine;5ased reporter for 0e"s"ee4 and The Washington *ost chronic#es one of the gri33est chapters in :atin A3erica's history' a tragedy that "ent on for years "hi#e the "or#d a)erted its ga<e Mr Andersen' no" a consu#tant to the =ustice Depart3ent on internationa# >ustice issues' argues not on#y that the repressi)e 3ethods used 5y the ar3ed forces "ere unconsciona5#e 5y any standard of conduct' 5ut a#so that there "as ne)er a threat re?uiring anything re3ote#y rese35#ing a "ar' dirty or other"ise @et the Argentine 3i#itary c#ai3ed to 5e fighting the first 5att#es of Wor#d War III As ear#y as %-A&' Mr Andersen sho"s' the 3i#itary ga)e ad)ance notice that it "as girding for co35at In a report to foreign 3i#itary representati)es that "as dressed up in co#d "ar rhetoric' it dec#ared( "Counter re)o#utionary "arfare is 3ain#y intended to pre)ent 3ass
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conta3ination of the peop#e and to pre)ent the sei<ure of 5asic organi<ations of the country 5y Mar9ist ideo#ogists and their agents The purpose of this counterre)o#utionary "arfare is to preser)e the nationa# ideo#ogica# so)ereignty So3eti3es the co35ination of certain factors 3ay ca## for the ti3e#y inter)ention of a surgeon to eradicate the e)i# 5efore the 5ody 5eco3es too "ea4 and is tota##y diseased " Mr Andersen's thesis is that the 3i#itary' in order to >ustify a s"eeping purge of a## e#e3ents of Argentine society that it dee3ed suspect' infi#trated one of the guerri##a groups' the Montoneros' and 3anipu#ated it' e)en 5o35ing and 3urdering in its na3e' e9aggerating "hat "as in fact a tiny su5)ersi)e 3o)e3ent Though the guerri##as 5y 3id;%-.A had 5een de)astated' the 3i#itary 3ade the3 appear a continuing threat so that it cou#d pro#ong its repression Mr Andersen's dogged reporting has unearthed do<ens of e9a3p#es of the #engths to "hich the guardians of order "ere "i##ing to go to perpetuate their hoa9' such as ca##ing for a stri4e under the Montoneros' na3e and then 5ruta##y s?ue#ching it The 5oo4's treat3ent of the dirty "ar is a tour de force' indicting a 3i#itary run a3o4 It had con)inced itse#f that students' teachers' c#ergy3en' unionists and inte##ectua#s "ere the country's 3orta# ene3ies Mr Andersen a#so ca##s into ?uestion the Bnited States Co)ern3ent's ro#e in Argentina during this ti3e The 3ost shoc4ing charge in "Dossier Secreto" is that the 3i#itary's infi#tration e9tended to the top Montonero #eader' Mario Dir3enich' "ho' the author says' "as a dou5#e agent acti)e#y aiding the 3i#itary's Machia)e##ian p#an' e)en sending his o"n co3rades into a35ushes and to certain capture and death Mr Andersen first 3ade this c#ai3 in a March %-1- artic#e in The 0ation /ere' he adds supporting e)idence of Mr Dir3enich's dup#icity !ut it is trou5#ing that the identification of Mr Dir3enich as a dou5#e agent co3es fro3 a sing#e source' a retired Centra#
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Inte##igence Agency station chief posted to !uenos Aires and identified on#y as "Sa3 " At one point' Mr Andersen te##s us in a footnote that he has pro)ided t"o #etters 5y Sa3 to the 5oo4's pu5#isher confir3ing Mr Dir3enich's ro#e This does not he#p the reader to "eigh the truth of the a##egation Of course' one difficu#ty in an instance such as this arises fro3 the restrictions the C I A p#aces on its for3er e3p#oyees !ut in the sa3e footnote an Argentine source gi)es on#y "ea4 confir3ation of Sa3's c#ai3' saying( "It's possi5#e it 3ight ha)e I can't say' 5ut I'3 con)inced of one thing ;; they did each other fa)ors " Mr Andersen's research produces a strong presu3ption of dup#icity on Mr Dir3enich's part Bnfortunate#y' Mr Dir3enich refused to 5e inter)ie"ed for this 5oo4 The author does point out that Mr Dir3enich "as a nationa#ist and a *eronist' and 3any of his targets "ere 3e35ers of the Mar9ist *eop#e's Re)o#utionary Ar3y So it is indeed p#ausi5#e that he cou#d ha)e 5een a "i##ing acco3p#ice of the Argentine ar3ed forces in their "ar against the #eft A5out ha#f of "Dossier Secreto" chronic#es the decades 5efore the %-.8's' "hen the ar3ed forces practiced and refined the techni?ues that they "ou#d use to "age their dirty "ar This #ong pro#ogue so3e"hat di#utes the centra# dra3a of Mr Dir3enich and the Montoneros' 3anipu#ation More i3portant' 3issing fro3 this account of the gro"ing chaos is a c#ear ac4no"#edg3ent that the society itse#f "as 5rea4ing do"n This "as not si3p#y a case of co"ed 5ut decent fo#4 fa##ing into the hands of neofascists and neo;0a<isE a "ide array of groups' right and #eft' had e35raced )io#ence Mr Andersen recounts 5ut does not e9p#ore one of the 3ost )io#ent incidents' =uan *eron's %-.2 ho3eco3ing at E<ei<a airport after %. years of e9i#e' "hen *eronist thugs of the right set upon poor#y ar3ed *eronists of the #eft Such anarchy is crucia# to e9p#ain' though o5)ious#y it does not e9cuse' ho" the 3i#itary ca3e to step in so that it cou#d i3pose order at any cost E)en though )io#ence of the right and the syste3atic 5#ood5ath of the 3i#itary "ent on for years' ta4ing a far higher to## than the 5#ood spi##ed 5y the #eft'
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the societa# 5rea4do"n "as e)ident 5efore the genera#s stepped in Curious#y' Mr Andersen #ays )ery #itt#e responsi5i#ity for that 5rea4do"n at *eron's doorstep *eron re3ains opa?ue in this 5oo4 ;; Mr Andersen see3s content si3p#y to 5rand hi3 an opportunist ;; yet he c#ear#y fostered the anarchy and the e)entua# 3i#itary crac4do"n 5y encouraging guerri##a acti)ity and radica#is3 "hi#e courting the right !y p#aying one side off against the other' he u#ti3ate#y #eft the door open to the dirty "ar "Dossier Secreto" is not a "or4 to 5e she#)ed "ith historica# 3i#itary studies It docu3ents the depths to "hich apparent#y ci)i#i<ed societies can sin4 It ca##s into ?uestion the "isdo3 of the %--8 presidentia# pardons of the dirty "ar's perpetrators and of Mario Dir3enich And as 3essianic 3i#itary 3en resurrect their appea# in Vene<ue#a and e#se"here' it forces us to confront the crucia# ?uestions of "hy such 3adness occurs and "hether it 3ight occur again Linda Robinson is the Latin America correspondent for U.S. News & World Report.