Eighth Hearing – Monday, August 6

The hearings in the trial of Christian Federico Von Wernich resumed this morning at 10, after a weeklong recess.

Federal Court nº1 of La Plata, presided by Dr. Carlos A. Rozansky, heard the testimonies of former prisoners who claimed that Von Wernich had been present in the clandestine detention centers. These centers were under the authority of the Buenos Aires State Police (led by Colonel Ramón Camps) and the General Directorate of Investigations (led by Miguel Etchecolatz).

The witnesses in the trial are all former prisoners who had been unlawfully detained at four locations: the Investigations Brigade’s precinct in Quilmes, also known as “Pozo de Quilmes,” the Investigations Brigade’s precinct in La Plata, the 5th police precinct of the city of La Plata and the police headquarters in Arana.

Today’s hearing focused on Pozo de Quilmes, where the former priest was allegedly complicit in the unlawful detention and torture of Rubén Fernando Schell.

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“Moral torture”

The prosecution considers Rubén Schell to be a “key witness” in the case, given that he saw and spoke with the priest at Quilmes.

Rubén Fernando Schell claimed to have suffered greatly during his imprisonment, saying that “the worst [form of] torture [was Von Wernich’s] moral torture.” He also said that 10 days prior to his release, in 1977, he was taken from his cell to meet with Von Wernich.

“Beyond the torture, the beatings, the electric shocks, the worst I suffered was what this man [Von Wernich] did to me, the moral torture,” maintained Schell. “I remember it clearly and it still hurts me to know that a priest could do such things,” declared the witness.

Schell told the court that the priest had said to him: “You went around planting bombs, doing bad things, and when you get out of here, if you do get out of here, [society] will reject you.” Schell answered: “I will get out of here because I didn’t do anything

.” He added: “[Von Wernich] was not a priest, he was a son of a bitch.”

The former prisoner recalled asking the priest: “What are you going to do, are you going to hit me? Add another [blood]stain in the Tigre [river]?” The priest answered: “I don’t hit anyone.”

The engineers

Some of the leaders of the military dictatorship had always been obsessed with the depiction of the human rights violations committed in Argentina in the media. In an effort to influence the international community’s views, they came up with a plan that involved kidnapped engineers Jorge Allega and Juan Carlos Guarino.

In his testimony, Allega recalls being asked whether he was an engineer and then about things “I had no idea about, each time [I didn’t answer] they would torture me more.”

“They would give me electric shocks, put a plastic bag over my head to asphyxiate me, and hang me by my feet until I thought I was going to die.” “They also threatened to bring in my wife, who had been pregnant for 3 months,” declared Allega.

He also declared: “towards the end of September 1977, they let us know that Massera wanted to form a group of people with knowledge of electrical engineering to work during the [1978 football] World Cup.” The plan was never put into action.

Guarino, also a professional engineer, recalled being tortured on several occasions before being taken to an old radio-operating center that belonged to the Buenos Aires provincial radio.

The interrogators would ask him “information on operatives” so that they could “continue pulling the rope,” referring to the names of other people who were then to be kidnapped and tortured too. They forced him to give a technical description of television systems and sound technology in particular. He even wrote a report with pictures, which he later saw posted in other detention centers.

Guarino also claimed that when he was detained, he heard guards say that the idea was to “bring in people who knew how to interfere with television systems.”

Film producer Alcides Chiesa and his wife Norma Leanza also testified today. Both were held at the Pozo de Quilmes detention center among other places and testified that Rubén Schell had been over there.

Both had knowledge of the presence of a priest in the center. They told the court of a meeting in which the priest accused them of participating in subversive political activities and threatened them.

The prosecution

According to the prosecution, Von Wernich “had a conspicuous role in the so-called “Camps circuit” of clandestine detention centers, torture and killing that was deployed from within state structures during the times of the military dictatorship.”

“Von Wernich would come to some of the clandestine detention centers of the circuit on a regular basis, he would have access to the zones in which people were unlawfully deprived of their freedom and maintain direct contact with these people,” said the prosecutors.

This accusation had already been made by several witnesses, including Osvaldo Papaleo and Héctor Timerman, the son of journalist Jacobo Timerman who was tortured while held in the Puesto Vasco detention center.

Papaleo, a former Press Secretary of Argentina, declared before the court that Von Wernich “was part of the gang that tortured and interrogated” in the Puesto Vasco clandestine detention center.

“The priest would come and go with complete freedom and his presence alongside the prisoners would always follow the torture sessions to which we were submitted,” declared Papaleo.

When asked to give more details on the activities of the accused, he said: “Von Wernich always had detailed knowledge of what we had revealed under torture earlier on.”

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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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