Formed after democracy was restored in Argentina in 1983, the National commission on the Disappeared was chartered to investigate the fates of the thousands who disappeared during the junta rule. The commission was to receive depositions and evidence concerning these events, and pass the information to the courts, in those cases where crimes had been committed. The commission's report would not extend, however, to determine responsibility, only to deliver an unbiased chronicle of the events.
In order to guarantee objectivity, the National executive resolved that the commission be comprised of individuals who enjoyed national & international prestige, chosen for their consistent stance in defence of human rights. They would represent different walks of life and political affiliations or ideologies.
The new president elect of the democratic republic, Dr. Raul Alfonsin, called upon the folowing people to carry out their function independently and ad honorem:
- Ricardo Colombres
- Rene Favarolo
- Hilario Fernandez Long
- Carlos T. Gattinoni
- Gregorio Klimovsky
- Marshall T. Meyer
- Jaime F. de Nevares
- Eduardo Rabossi
- Magdelena Ruiz Guinazú
- Ernesto Sabato
By the same decree, the government invited both chambers in congress to send three representatives to join the commission. Only the chamber of Deputies complied by electing the members:
- Santiago Marcelino Lopez
- Hugo Diogenes Piucill
- Horacio Hugo Huarte
Prior to this, on December 29th, 1983, Ernesto Sabato was unanimously elected President of the commission. Five departments were created to deal with the different aspects of the Commission's work:
- Depositions Department under Sra. Graciela Fernandez Meijide
- Documentation and Data Processing Department under Dr. Daniel Salvador
- Procedures Department under Dr. Raul Aragon
- Legal Affairs Department under Dr. Alberto Mansur
- Administrative Department under Dr. Leopoldo Silgueira
The commission has presided over hearings of thousands of cases of abduction, disappearance, torture, and executions. Every individual case was documented in a numbered file. It compiled over 50,000 pages of documentation [We wish they were made available digitally over the Internet] A shocking summary was published as an official report in Spanish in 1984. Faced with the thousands of testimonies and horrific facts the commission concluded with a set of recomendations to pursue legal action against the responsible.
In an introduction to a book containing the report, Ronald Dworkin writes [My additions based on the report appear in brackets]: "Its story has two themes: ultimate brutality and absolute caprice. People taken of the streets, [from their homes at night, or from their workplace in broad daylight and driven blindfolded to detention camps.] Their houses looted and their property stolen. Most of them lived the rest of their lives in the detention centers, hooded or blindfolded, forbidden to talk to one another, hungry, living in filth. The center of their lives - dominating the memories of those who survived - was torture. They were tortured, almost without exception, methodically, sadistically, sexually, with electric shocks and near-drownings, [some burried to their necks and left in the sun and the rain for days. They were] constantly beaten, in the most humiliating possible way, not to discover information - very few had any information to give - but just to break them spiritually as well as physically, and to give pleasure to their torturers. Most of those who survived the torture were killed. Disposing of the bodies presented a tactical problem. First they were burried in mass unmarked pits, but later, a more efficient final solution was discovered. The disappeared were loaded into planes with an open door, flown over the sea, and then thrown out. Most of them were first drugged or killed, but some were alive and conscious when they left the plane."
The report of the commission was published in English with an introduction by Ronald Dworkin, as a book under the name Nunca Mas (Never Again), published by Farrar Straus Giroux, New York. Also published in London by Faber and Faber Ltd, 1986. ISBN 0374223505. While the report explicitly states that the documented cases are by no means exhaustive, and that many cases were most probably left unreported, till this date, this report is the most extensive document available publicly, bringing those horrors to light.
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