Fifth Hearing – Thursday, July 19th

Witnesses affirm that Von Wernich was aware of tortures. [leer en español]

In today’s hearing, testimonies were heard from five new witnesses. All appeared to agree that the priest Chistian Von Wernich was fully aware of the tortures that were occurring in Clandestine Detention Centers during the Argentine military dictatorship of 1976-1983, with one witness actually personally recognizing Von Wernich, who’s brief appearance in the courtroom was the first in several weeks.

The Destéfano Testimony
The first testimony heard today came from Juan Destéfano, former president of the Racing Club, kidnapped in June of 1976 and taken half-naked to a processing center in Buenos Aires. He stated that he was later transferred in a similar manner to Police Station no. 22, before finally reappearing when formally detained at Penal Unit no. 9 in La Plata. Destéfano remained at this location until one evening a group led by Miguel Osvaldo Etchecolatz, Director of Investigations for the Buenos Aires Provincial Police, removed him in secret from the jail and transferred him to the Clandestine Detention Center known as “Puesto Vasco.” The group of kidnappers, Destéfano stated, was composed of Eros Tarella and Milton Pretti, among others.

Although Destéfano remained formally detained at Penal Unit no. 9, he claimed that in reality he was translated to various Clandestine Detention Centers during the week for interrogations and tortures, namely to COT I – Martinez, where he was tortured in numerous electrical shock sessions. He also reported hearing the torture sessions of many other prisoners including Rubén Diéguez and members of the Miralles family, also detained at COT I – Martinez at the time. Destéfano stated that he was only returned to the Penal Unit – where he was formally detained – on the weekends, just in time for visitations with his family. In these visits, Destéfano would remain seated in a chair, unable to move due to the numerous injuries caused by the week’s torture sessions.

In reference to Christian Von Wernich, Destéfano stated that his first interaction the priest came when he was eventually transferred back to Puesto Vasco. The priest visited Destéfano to encourage him to provide information to the officers so that he would not be harmed any further. Destéfano also reported having similar conversations with officers Norberto Cossani and Alberto Rousse, and stated that he saw Von Wernich along with Rousse on several occasions at Puesto Vasco:

“[Von Wernich] was a participant in the gang of repressors and torturers along with Beto, Tarela, and [Pretti]. He was especially a participant in the group that was torturing and detaining [people].”

Destéfano also made reference to the police doctor Jorge Antonio Bergés:

“this one is a swine, a criminal, a worthless being. He’s the one who would check our hearts and tell the guy operating the machine whether he could provide more or less [electricity]. I was unlucky, because in my case he said ‘give it to him, he has a strong heart.’ Along with Etchecolatz, he was the worst one I met [at Puesto Vasco].”

In the concluding remarks of his testimony, Destéfano emphasized his view that the former repressors of the military dictatorship should not be held under mere house arrest:

“they should all be held in tiny cells like we were. They should not have any benefits….they are not human beings, they are agents of genocide that have done terrible damage.”

The Taub Testimony
Testimony was also heard today from the Taub family, who owned a hotel in Buenos Aires and one of the most successful currency exchange companies in the country at the time of the military dictatorship The proprietor, Benjamín Taub was kidnapped in 1977, along with his wife and son Luis Guillermo Taub, who spoke before the court. Several of the Taub’s employees were also kidnapped.

Luis Guillermo Taub, kidnapped on September 7th, 1977 in Buenos Aires, testified that he was taken to numerous Clandestine Detention Centres during his illegal detainment, including Pozo de Quilmes and COTI Martínez. In the first of these, Taub was tortured along with his father and interrogated over allegations that the family might be connected with the Uruguayan “Tupamaros” movement. Suspicions had arisen after the exiled senator Zelmar Michelini’s stayed at the Taub’s hotel.

At COTI Martínez, Taub and his father were also tortured. It was during this time, Taub stated, that it was announced that on the Christmas Eve a popular Argentine meat dish called asado would be served in honor of a high authority from the Catholic Church who would be visiting. This was Von Wernich.

In preparation for the arrival of the priest, Taub recalled, prisoners were given nothing to eat for two days. Taub described the priest as a tall but stout man, with blond-hair and wearing a priest’s cassock and crucifix. He further stated that the priest visited all of the prisoners who were at COTI Martínez at the time, telling them that “they were there for a reason.”

Taub insisted that Von Wernich was perfectly aware that the officers at COTI Martínez were kidnapping and torturing people. He stated that his father Benjamín Taub, at the time in extremely poor physical health, had begged the priest to intercede with no avail. Benjamín Taub would pass away a short time later, after leaving the prison.

In light of Taub’s statements, Federal Prosecutor Carlos Dulau Dumm requested that Von Wernich be brought into the courtroom for personal recognition by Taub, a suggestion which was backed by Dr. Vedio, representative of the joint claims of APDH La Plata and CTA. In spite of objections raised by the defense, the request was honored by the tribunal and Von Wernich was brought into the courtroom from the secured office where he sits during court proceedings. It was an unexpected and brief appearance, his first since initial hearings held on July 5th.

Presiding judge Dr. Carlos Rozanski asked Taub if the person standing in front of him was the same one he had mentioned in his testimony, to which Taub responded “Yes, with certainty.” Von Wernich, wearing a priest’s collar and a bullet-proof vest, was then removed again from the courtroom.

Other Testimonies
Other testimonies heard today came from Julio Daich, Juan Miguel Paino and Jorge Raúl Rodríguez, who provided additional details regarding the Clandestine Detention Centres mentioned.

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La Asamblea Permanente por los Derechos Humanos La Plata es una organización no gubernamental cuyos objetivos son: Defender los Derechos Humanos en su acepción más amplia, contribuir a su enseñanza y a su difusión, dotar a esta temática de sólidos fundamentos jurídicos y académicos con una clara visión de futuro mediante la investigación y la docencia. Llevar adelante los reclamos de Memoria, Verdad y Justicia para nuestro pueblo. Llevar adelante el Juicio por la verdad, iniciado junto a otros organismos y particulares en 1998 ante la Cámara Federal de La Plata y a las causas penales derivadas del Juicio por la Verdad.

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