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Dirty warriors in a dirty war

By Dr George Venturini

Heinz Alfred ‘Henry’ Kissinger obtained a Ph.D. at Harvard University in 1954. His interest was on Castelreagh and Metternich – two empire builders. He devoted his life to sublimate them.

In an incendiary, studiedly defamatory book the late Christopher Hitchens described him as “a mediocre and opportunist academic [intent on] becoming an international potentate. The signature qualities were there from the inaugural moment: the sycophancy and the duplicity; the power worship and the absence of scruple; the empty trading of old non-friends for new non-friends. And the distinctive effects were also present: the uncounted and expendable corpses; the official and unofficial lying about the cost; the heavy and pompous pseudo-indignation when unwelcome questions were asked. Kissinger’s global career started as it meant to go on. It debauched the American republic and American democracy, and it levied a hideous toll of casualties on weaker and more vulnerable societies.”

The story is all here: from the martyrdom of Indochina to becoming the real backchannel to Moscow on behalf of his new client: Donald Trump.

Editor’s note: This outstanding series by Dr Venturini is published bi-weekly (Wednesdays and Saturdays). Today we publish Part Fifteen. Here is the link to Part Fourteen; A law to forget.

The ‘dirty war’

As already seen, President Isabel Martínez de Perón was ousted in 1976 by a Junta of the three armed forces, led by Army General Jorge Rafael Videla. They initiated the National Reorganisation Process, often shortened to Proceso.

The Proceso shut down Congress, removed the judges of the Supreme Court, banned political parties and unions, and resorted to the forced ‘disappearance’ of suspected guerrilla members and of anyone believed to be associated with the left-wing. 1976-1983 – although some would say that the period of state terrorism began in 1969 or later in 1974 – was one of the darkest periods in Argentine history. During such period military and security forces and right-wing death squads in the form of the Alianza Anticomunista Argentina, Argentine Anticommunist Alliance, A.A.A. hunted down and killed left-wing guerrillas, political dissidents, and anyone believed to be associate with socialism. From 1976 to 1983 a sequence of three brutal military Juntas ruled Argentina in what was called ‘the dirty war’.

The Juntas, led by Jorge Rafael Videla until 1981, and then by Roberto Viola and Leopoldo Galtieri until 1983, organised and carried out strong repression of political dissidents – and perceived dissidents, through the government’s military and security forces. They were responsible for the illegal arrests, tortures, killings and/or forced disappearances of an estimated 30,000 people. Assassination occurred domestically in Argentina by mass shootings and the throwing of live citizens from airplanes to death in the South Atlantic. Additionally, 12,000 prisoners, many of whom had not been convicted through legal processes, were detained in a network of 340 secret concentration camps located throughout Argentina. These actions against victims called desaparecidos, because they simply ‘disappeared’ without explanation, were confirmed by Argentine navy officer Adolfo Scilingo, who has publicly confessed his participation in the ‘dirty war’, stating, “…we did worse things than the Nazis.” (Horacio Verbitsky, The Flight: Confessions of an Argentine Dirty Warrior, The New Press, New York, 1996, at 7). The victims not only included armed combatants of the Ejército Revolucionario del Pueblo – People’s Revolutionary Army, E.R.P. and Montoneros and their large civilian support base, but also trade-unionists, students and left-wing activists, journalists and other intellectuals, and their families.

Each Junta referred to its policy of suppressing opponents as the Proceso de Reorganización Nacional – National Reorganisation Process. However, the result of these ‘disappearances’ was not submission of the opposition; it later led to a subversion by the military Junta in conjunction with other causes. Argentine military and security forces also created paramilitary death squads, operating behind ‘fronts’ as supposedly independent units. Argentina coordinated actions with other South American dictatorships, as in Operation Condor. Accounts by ‘dirty war’ survivors indicate that the Argentine government commonly seized innocent people who witnessed the capture of targeted individuals which occurred in public places; physicians’ reports confirm the torture endured by survivors.

The number of the victims of such violence is not certain: there is an approximation of 15,000 to 30,000 including trade unionists, students, journalists, left-wing activists and militants, Marxists, Peronist guerrillas and alleged sympathisers. Some 10,000 of the ‘disappeared’ were believed to be guerrillas of the Montoneros, and the People’s Revolutionary Army. The guerrillas were responsible for causing at least 6,000 casualties among the military, police forces and civilian population. The ‘disappeared’ ones were considered to be a political or ideological threat to the military Junta and their ‘disappearances’ an attempt to silence the opposition and break the determination of the guerrillas.

Declassified documents of the Chilean secret police cite an official estimate by the Batallón de Inteligencia 601 of 22,000 killed or ‘disappeared’ between 1975 and mid-1978. During this period, it was later revealed, 8,625 ‘disappeared’ were apprehended under the Poder Ejecutivo Nacional – National Executive Power.

In 1982 the then head of the Junta General Leopoldo Galtieri launched Operation Rosario, which escalated into the war with Britain over the Islas Malvinas/Falkland Islands; within two months Argentina was defeated.

Reynaldo Bignone replaced Galtieri and began to organise the transition to democratic rule.

The military leaders stepped down; the general election on 30 October 1983 – and the surprising defeat of the Peronist party – marked the return of constitutional rule.

Raúl Alfonsín won the 1983 elections campaigning for the prosecution of those responsible for human rights violations during the Proceso: the trial of the Juntas and other martial courts sentenced all the coup leaders but, under military pressure, Alfonsín also enacted the Ley de punto finalFull Stop law and the Ley the obediencia debida – The Due Obedience law, which halted prosecutions further down the chain of command.

The worsening economic crisis and hyperinflation reduced his popular support and frequent riots would later force Alfonsín to an early resignation.

The government of Raúl Alfonsín (December 1983-July 1989) began to develop cases against offenders. Three days after his inauguration, on 13 December 1983, President Alfonsín signed Decree No. 158, which mandated the opening of legal proceedings against the nine military officers of the first three Juntas, but not the fourth – ruled by General Reynaldo Bignone. The National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons was established two days later to collect testimonies from thousands of witnesses, and presented 8,960 cases of forced ‘disappearances’ to the President on 20 September 1984. Following the refusal of a military court to try former Junta members, on 14 October 1984 Alfonsín established a National Criminal Court of Appeals for the purpose. In addition to trying military officers, the government prosecuted those leading members of the Montoneros and of the guerrilla groups of the People’s Revolutionary Army responsible of crimes. Numerous men were convicted and sentenced.

The trial began on 22 April 1985. The main prosecutors were Julio César Strassera and his assistant Luis Moreno Ocampo, who was to become the first Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague. The trial was presided over by a tribunal of six judges.

The dictatorship had been a series of four military Juntas. The fourth Junta, before calling for elections and relinquishing power to the democratic authorities, enacted a Self-Amnesty Law on 18 April 1983, as well as a secret decree which ordered the destruction of records and other evidence of their past crimes.

This trial is so far the only example of such a large scale procedure by a democratic government against a former dictatorial government of the same country in Latin America. It was the first major trial held for war crimes since the Nüremberg Trials in Germany following the second world war, and the first to be conducted by a civilian court. It succeeded in prosecuting the crimes of the Juntas, which included kidnapping, torture, forced ‘disappearance’, and murder of an estimated 15,000 to 30,000 people during what was called the ‘dirty war’. Opposition to the trial was largely limited to critical commentary by politicians, lawyers, and media figures sympathetic to the dictatorship. Some protest became violent: during the sentencing phase of the trial, 29 bomb threats were made to several Buenos Aires schools, and a number of bombs were detonated in key government installations, including the Ministry of Defence. On 25 October President Alfonsín was forced to declare a 60-day state of emergency.

The prosecutors submitted 709 cases, of which 280 were heard. A total of 833 witnesses testified during the cross-examination phase, which lasted until 14 August. Witnesses included former President Alejandro Lanusse, writer Jorge Luis Borges, Estela Barnes de Carlotto, President of the Asociación Civil Abuelas de Plaza de MayoGrandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo; Pablo Díaz, a survivor and the author of La Noche de los Lápices – The night of the pencils; Patricia M. Derian, Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights in the Carter Administration; Dutch jurist Theo van Boven, and renowned forensic anthropologist Clyde Snow.

Closing arguments were heard on 18 September. Chief prosecutor Strassera concluded by declaring that:

“I wish to waive any claim to originality in closing this indictment. I wish to use a phrase that is not my own, because it already belongs to all the Argentine people. Your Honours: “Nunca mas !” – Never again !”

Sentencing was read on 9 December: General Jorge Videla and Admiral Emilio Massera were sentenced to life imprisonment; General Roberto Viola to seventeen years, Admiral Armando Lambruschini to eight years, General Orlando Agosti to four and a half years.

Air Force officer Omar Graffigna, General Leopoldo Galtieri, Commander-in-Chief of the Argentine Navy Jorge Anaya and Air Force officer Basilio Lami Dozo were acquitted, though the latter three were concomitantly court martialed for malfeasance in waging the Malvinas/Falkland war of 1982.

The original video tapes of the trial have been in Norway since 1988. All of the trial’s judges travelled to Oslo on 25 April of that year with 147 VHS tapes which were given to the Norwegian Parliament in order to keep them safe and avoid any commercial use. They are kept next to the original text of the Constitution of Norway.

Charges against 600 others were brought to court, but these lawsuits were hampered by the Ley de punto final Full stop law of 1986, which limited suits to those indicted within sixty days of the law’s enactment, and the Ley de obediencia debidaLaw of due obedience of 1987, which effectively halted most remaining trials of ‘dirty war’ perpetrators.

The top military officers of all the Juntas were among the nearly 300 people prosecuted, and the top men were all convicted and sentenced for their crimes.

Threatening another coup, the military opposed subjecting more of its personnel to such trials. In 1986 it was able to force through passage by the legislature of Ley de punto final – Full stop law, which ‘put a line’ under previous actions and ended prosecutions for crimes under the dictatorship. Fearing military uprisings, Argentina’s first two presidents favoured the sentencing only the two top ‘dirty war’ ex-commanders, and even then, very conservatively. Despite President Raúl Alfonsín’s 1983 establishment of CONADEP – the National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons, to investigate the atrocities of the ‘dirty war’, in 1986 the Ley de punto final provided amnesty to ‘dirty war’ acts, ‘recognising’ that torturers were doing their ‘jobs’! Indeed, Alfonsín’s successor, President Carlos Menem (July 1989-July 1995), a Peronista, praised the military in their “fight against subversion.”

Menem embraced neo-liberal policies: a fixed exchange rate, business deregulation, privatisations and dismantling of protectionist barriers ‘normalised’ the economy for a while. He pardoned the officers who had been sentenced during Alfonsín’s government. The 1994 Constitutional Amendment allowed Menem to be elected for a second term. The economy began to decline in 1995, with increasing unemployment and recession.

In 1997 Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzón issued orders for the arrest of former Argentine military officers on charges of participating in the kidnapping and killing of Spanish citizens during the ‘dirty war’. Argentine amnesty laws protected the accused.

In 1998 Argentine judges ordered arrests in connection with the abduction of hundreds of babies from women detained during the ‘dirty war’. The trial began on 28 February 2011. The prosecution aimed to prove that the “abduction, detention, hiding and changing of identities of newborn babies” was a clandestine and routine way of dealing with the problem of mothers who gave birth while being held in detention centres. The trial dealt with 34 of the estimated 500 cases. General Jorge Rafael Videla was found guilty and sentenced to fifty years in gaol. The other defendant General Reynaldo Bignone, also was convicted to fifteen years in gaol.

In December 1999 Fernando de la Rúa of the Unión Cívica Radical/Alianza was elected president, during a period which was tormented by financial as well as order problems.

De la Rúa kept Menem’s economic plan despite the worsening crisis, which led to growing social discontent. A massive capital flight was responded to with a freezing of bank accounts, generating further turmoil. In December 2001 a series of riots forced him to resign. Congress appointed Eduardo Duhalde as acting president, who abrogated the fixed exchange rate established by Menem. By the late 2002 the economic crisis began to recess, but the assassination of two piqueteros by the police caused political commotion, prompting Duhalde to move elections forward. He offers the disquieting hypothesis that as long as the “Argentine Question” remains unsettled the military may intervene again, the resistance movement will remain strong, and violence may continue even under a democratic government. He offers the disquieting hypothesis that as long as the “Argentine Question” remains unsettled the military may intervene again, the resistance movement will remain strong, and violence may continue even under a democratic less He offers the disquieting hypothesis that as long as the “Argentine Question” remains unsettled the military may intervene again, the resistance movement will remain strong, and violence may continue even under a democratic less He offers the disquieting hypothesis that as long as the “Argentine Question” remains unsettled the military may intervene again, the resistance movement will remain strong, and violence may continue even under a democratic less

In 2003 the Argentine Congress, under the presidency of Néstor Kirchner (2003-2007), repealed the longstanding amnesty laws, also called the Leyes de perdón – the ‘pardon laws’, and in 2005 the Argentine Supreme Court ruled that they were unconstitutional. The government re-opened investigations and began prosecutions again of the war crimes committed by military and security officers.

Kirchner was a member of the Partido Judicialista – Justicialist Party, the largest component of the Peronist movement.

In 2006, 24 March was designated as a public holiday in Argentina, the Day of Remembrance for Truth and Justice. That year, on the thirtieth anniversary of the coup, a huge crowd filled the streets to remember what happened during the military dictatorship, and ensure it did not happen again.

Also in 2006 the government began its first trials of military and security officers since the repeal of the ‘pardon laws.’ Miguel Etchecolatz, the police commissioner of the province of Buenos Aires in the 1970s, faced trial on charges of kidnapping, illegal detention, torture and homicide. He was found guilty of six counts of murder, six counts of unlawful imprisonment, and seven counts of torture, and sentenced in September 2006 to life imprisonment. The tribunal condemned the 1970s government’s crimes as crimes against humanity and genocide of political dissidents.

From then through October 2011, 259 persons were convicted for crimes against humanity and sentenced in Argentine courts, including former naval officer Alfredo Astiz, a notorious torturer and eleven other former members of the security forces were given life sentences for crimes against humanity committed during the 1976-1983 period of Juntas’ rule.

In February 2006 some former Ford Argentine workers sued the U.S.-based company, alleging that local managers worked with the security forces to detain union members on the premises and torture them. The civil suit against Ford Motor Company and Ford Argentina called for four former company executives and a retired military officer to be questioned. According to Pedro Norberto Troiani, one of the plaintiffs, 25 employees were detained in the plant, located sixty kilometres from Buenos Aires. Allegations have surfaced since 1998 that Ford officials were involved in state repression, but the ompany has denied the claims. Army personnel were reported to have arrived at the plant on the day of the military coup, 24 March 1976, and ‘disappearances’ immediately started.

Since her succession to office in 2007, President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (December 2007 – December 2015) the prosecution continued of military and security officers responsible for the ‘disappearances.’ The effort to prosecute junior officers has divided Argentine politicians.

In February 2010 a German court issued an international arrest warrant for former dictator Jorge Videla in connection with the death of 20-year-old Rolf Stawowiok in Argentina. He was a German citizen born in Argentina while his father was doing development work there. Rolf Stawowiok disappeared on 21 February 1978, after leaving the Argentine factory where he was working as a chemist. His father, Desiderius Stawowiok, said that Rolf was not active in the Argentine underground but was a sympathiser of the urban Montoneros guerrillas. They were largely destroyed under Videla. In earlier cases, France, Italy, and Spain had requested extradition of the Navy captain Alfredo Astiz for war crimes related to his work with the Escuela Superior de Mecánica de la Armada, ESMA – the Higher School of Mechanics of the Navy, but were never successful. ESMA was the place where most enemies of the Junta were taken – to be imprisoned without hope, tortured, killed and occasionally live-disposed off by helicopter in the Rio de la Plata – River Plate or in Atlantic Ocean.

On 22 November 2015, after a tie in the first round of presidential elections on 25 October, Mauricio Macri won the first ballotage in Argentina’s history, over the Frente para la Victoria – Front for Victory candidate Daniel Scioli, and becoming president-elect. Macri is the first democratically elected non-radical or Peronist president since 1916. He took office on 10 December 2015. In March 2016 President Barack Obama intended to honour the victims of the ‘dirty war’ and ordered the declassification of thousands of military and intelligence documents related to the period.

Argentina’s main human rights groups announced that they would boycott President Obama’s visit to the country, which coincided with the fortieth anniversary of the coup which led to the deaths of thousands of people.

On the previous day Obama had repeated a pledge to declassify United States military and intelligence documents about America’s role in the military dictatorship. “I hope this gesture helps rebuild trust that may have been lost between our two countries,” said Obama.

But the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo were not convinced. “I don’t believe there will be anything in those documents – they always black out the names and the important parts,” said a spokesperson.

In the morning of 24 March President Obama and President Mauricio Macri commemorated the anniversary at a ceremony in the Parque de la memoriaRemembrance park, a memorial park for victims of the dictatorship built alongside the coast of the Rio de la Plata.

Both the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo and the Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo associations, who continue to search for missing victims and babies born to their imprisoned daughters, announced they would not be present at the ceremony. “It is a provocation, it is our date,” said the same spokesperson. The two groups, together with other human rights groups, instead had organised what they expected to be massive marches in Buenos Aires and across the country for the afternoon of 24 March.

In April 2016 the Macri Government introduced austerity measures intended to tackle inflation and public deficits. Clearly the causes of much revolt during the decades preceding the taking of power by the military have not been removed, yet.

In some Latin American countries which suffered under military rule during the 1970-1980s the Catholic clergy was often a source of resistance, comfort and protection. Against the dictatorship of General Pinochet some local priests defended human rights and called for the account of the ‘disappeared’ ones.

In Argentina the coup had much more savage consequences. There the Church – as an institution – was comparatively passive when not collaborating with the Juntas.

Church leaders never confronted the military regime the way their counterparts in Chile did; nor did they encourage or even permit grass-roots activism at the parish level, as developed in Brazil. On the contrary, the church allowed Argentina’s ruling generals and admirals to cloak themselves in religiosity and claim that somehow, in their sinister rampage, they were serving God’s will.

There was at least one clamorous example of such complicity.

In October 2007 former Argentina-born Roman Catholic police chaplain Christian Federico Von Wernich was convicted of collaborating in the murder and torture of prisoners during the ‘dirty war’. He was thirty eight at the time of the coup, was attached to the Buenos Aires Province Police, and ‘worked’ with the rank of inspector in the notorious Miguel Etchecolatz’s Direction of Investigations of the provincial police. His reputation reached beyond Argentina in 2006 after being indicted for murder and kidnapping in aid of the military Junta. He was sentenced to life imprisonment.

In 1985, two years after the restoration of democratic institutions, von Wernich was accused of collaboration by torturing political prisoners. He proclaimed himself innocent and was temporarily saved by the Argentine Congress passing of the Ley de punto final, intended to ‘draw a line’ under all that had happened until then.

The country struggled to restore democratic institutions and rule of law.

In 2003 Congress repealed the 1986 Ley de punto final and the government re-opened prosecution of cases of crimes against humanity committed during the ‘dirty war’. In a court challenge, the Argentine Supreme Court would rule in 2005 that the law was unconstitutional.

New evidence was collected against von Wernich and the priest, then living under assumed name in Chile, was arrested in September 1983 and indicted on charges of conspiracy to illegal detention, torture and murder. He had taken part in mock executions during which he ‘counselled’ the victims and urged them to confess and name other people. He had been no ‘man-of-god’, but had violated the sacraments of his own Church.

Von Wernich’s trial began on 5 July 1987. The charges were: forty one instance of kidnapping and torture and seven murders. He had denied all charges before the trial; at the trial he would exercise his right to silence.

On 9 October 1987 the court found him guilty of 42 kidnappings, 32 instances of torture and complicity in 7 murders, and sent von Wernich to life imprisonment.

Was the case of von Wernich exemplary of the Catholic Church in Argentina’s collaboration with the Junta? Hard to say. But all circumstantial elements incline for a ‘yes’. Outwardly indifference could be a better descriptor.

All the Church would do or say on von Wernich’s conviction was to apologise for his being “so far from the requirements of the mission commended to him.”

Two years after conviction von Wernich was still, with the knowledge and permission of the Church, officiating as a priest in the prison.

Perhaps the only thing which may be said is that the Catholic Church proceed through life sub specie aeternitatis – from the perspective of the eternal: an explanation, not a justification. And that calls for elucidation – by questions.

Sure, they may be regarded as impolite, even offensive, because they concern the head of sovereign state – the Vatican. Yet, here they are:

What did Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio know about Argentina’s brutal ‘dirty war’ against suspected leftists in which thousands were tortured and killed? When did he know it ?

More important, what did the present Pope Francis do?

When the Junta seized power in 1976, Bergoglio – elected on 13 March 2013 by the College of Cardinals as the first Latin American to become Pope – was the head of the Jesuit order in Argentina. His elevation to the papacy occasioned great joy and national pride in his homeland – but also, for some, brought back memories of Argentina’s darkest and most desperate days.

The Church in Argentina was comparatively passive in the face of the Junta’s horrors. Some would say complicit. Church leaders never confronted the military regime the way their counterparts did in Chile; nor did they encourage or even permit grass-roots activism at the parish level, as developed in Brazil. On the contrary, the Church allowed Argentina’s generals and admirals to cloak themselves in religiosity and claim that somehow, in their sinister rampage, they were serving God’s will.

In 2005 Ms. Myriam Bregman, an Argentine human rights lawyer, activist and politician and now member of Congress, filed a criminal complaint against Bergoglio, as the Provincial of the Society of Jesus of Argentina, accusing him of involvement in the Navy’s kidnapping and ‘disappearance’ of two priests in May 1976. In his position Bergoglio removed (equal to expulsion) religious licence to the priests Francisco Jalics and Orlando Yorio, two subordinates in the Society of Jesus who had made the call ‘option for the poor’.

Both priests were young and followers of the progressive ‘liberation theology’ movement; Bergoglio was not. As their superior, he had told them to cease the work they were doing in a slum neighbourhood on the outskirts of Buenos Aires.

Jalics and Yorio preached in the ‘shanty town’ of the neighbourhood poor, while Bergoglio sympathised with the group the Guardia de hierro, the Iron Guard a right-wing supporter of Peronism, according to writer and journalist Horacio Verbitsky – a view which was subsequently confirmed by a prestigious Argentine newspaper in 2010 (El número uno de la Iglesia Argentina, sospechoso de colaborar con la dictadura, El mundo, 8 November 2010) – The number one of the Argentine Church, suspected of collaborating with the dictatorship).

The allegation is that Bergoglio, knowing the men were in danger of being targeted by the military, withdrew the Jesuit order’s protection from them because of their disobedience – effectively leaving them to the Junta’s tools.

Days after losing the protection of the Society of Jesus, a group of the E.S.M.A. (Escuela Superior de Mecánica de la Armada – Navy Petty Officers School of Mechanics) kidnapped Jalics and Yorio and several other catechists, who would frequent the cells of ‘killing Centre’. The priests, according to Verbitsky, always suspected that Bergoglio had betrayed them.

Of that group of kidnapped and tortured, the Catechist Mónica Maria Mignone is still missing. Her father, Emilio Mignone, a well-known lawyer, author and ultimately university rector, founded the humanitarian organisation Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales. In his 1986 book Iglesia y dictadura, Mignone told Bergoglio was one of “those shepherds who handed over their sheep to the enemy without defending them or rescuing them”. (E. F. Mignone, Iglesia y dictadura: el papel de la Iglesia a la luz de sus relaciones con el régimen militar, Ediciones del Pensamiento Nacional, Buenos Aires 1986, Church and dictatorship: the role of the Church in the light of its relations with the military regime)

This charge was first made in 1986 by Mignone, one of Argentina’s most respected human rights activists, and was repeated in a book about the relationship between the Church and the dictatorship. The highly-respected journalist Horacio Verbitsky took up the charge in his 2005 book El silencio. (El silencio: de Paulo VI a Bergoglio: las relaciones secretas de la Iglesia con la ESMA, Sudamericana, Buenos Aires 2005, The silence: from Paolo VI to Bergoglio, the secret links between the Church and the Navy Mechanics School).

Bergoglio consistently denied the allegation. He told a biographer that the priests left the Jesuit order voluntarily and that he appealed privately to leaders of the Junta for the priests’ release – an intervention of the kind which might have saved their lives. Bergoglio also told the biographer that he often allowed people sought by the military to hide on Church property. In testimony before an official tribunal in 2010 he said he was unaware of the Junta’s worst excesses until after the fact. He specifically denied knowing that babies born to pregnant detainees were forcibly taken from their mothers and given to politically connected families for adoption – although there is evidence suggesting he did know about this practice. And so much for pastoral care of the unfortunate families.

In 2012 Argentina’s bishops – under Bergoglio’s leadership – issued a blanket apology for having failed to protect the Church’s flock during the dictatorship. That the Church was tragically remiss is no longer in question, if it ever was.

Now that Bergoglio is Pope Francis, his record and recollections of nearly 40 years ago are important not so much because of what he did or did not do but because of what lessons he did or did not learn. There were Catholic prelates who openly collaborated with the Junta and some of those who openly opposed them. Bergoglio might have been somewhere in the middle.

The lawyer’s complaint did not specify the nature of Bergoglio’s alleged involvement; Bergoglio’s spokesman flatly denied the allegations. The lawsuit was ultimately dismissed. The priests, Jalics and Yorio, had been tortured, but found alive five months later, drugged and semi-naked. Yorio accused Bergoglio of effectively handing them over to the death squads by declining to tell the authorities that he endorsed their work. Yorio, who died in 2000, said in a 1999 interview that he believed that Bergoglio “did nothing to free us, in fact just the opposite.” Jalics initially refused to discuss the complaint after moving into seclusion in a German monastery. However, two days after the election of Pope Francis (13 March 2013), Jalics issued a statement confirming the kidnapping and attributing the cause to a former lay colleague who became a guerrilla, was captured, and named Jalics and Yorio when interrogated. The following week, Jalics – probably by now in his mid-sixties – issued a second, clarifying statement: “It is wrong to assert that our capture took place at the initiative of Father Bergoglio … the fact is, Orlando Yorio and I were not denounced by Father Bergoglio.” (Pope Francis did not denounce me to Argentinian junta …, › WorldPope Francis, 21 March 2013).

Not denounced – alright; but abandoned? Hmmm.

On 9 April 2013 the Vatican was not changing its position: in the 1970s it had dismissed reports of bloodshed of the ‘dirty war’ as “communist propaganda.” (Peter Finocchiaro, ‘WikiLeaks: Vatican dismisses Pinochet massacre reports as ‘communist propaganda’, 9 April 2013 › article34547.htm)

Next installment Saturday: “There are difficult days ahead”.

Dr. Venturino Giorgio (George) Venturini, formerly an avvocato at the Court of Appeal of Bologna, devoted some sixty years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. He may be reach at


1 comment

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  1. Freetasman

    The terrorist activities by the extreme right and conservative governments in both sides of the River Plate started well before 1969.
    By personal experience I can say that things started after the Cuban revolution and persecution of people from the left regardless their age was supported by the CIA.
    Now the right is using different tactics, Brazil is a good example.

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