Patricia Isasa was 16 years old in 1976 when she was kidnapped by Argentine police and soldiers. She was tortured and held prisoner without trial for two and a half years. Before she joins thousands heading to Fort Benning, Georgia to protest what used to be called the School of the Americas, Isasa joins us in our firehouse studio to tell her story and of her lifelong campaign to bring her torturers to justice. [includes rush transcript]
Thousands are expected to converge in Fort Benning, Georgia this weekend for the annual protest calling for the closure of the School of the Americas. The school–now known as the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation–was created sixty years ago as a military training facility for Latin American military and police.
There have been hundreds of documented human rights abuses connected to soldiers trained at the school. In 1996, the Pentagon released school training manuals that advocated torture, extortion and execution. Despite this, there has never been an independent investigation of the school.
In 2004, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced that Venezuela would no longer send soldiers to train at SOA. Earlier this year, the governments of Uruguay and Argentina followed suit. Argentina in particular has a sordid history with the school. When SOA graduate Leopoldo Galtieri headed Argentina’s military during the country’s dictatorship, thirty-thousand people were killed or disappeared.
One of those who was disappeared and lived to tell her story is Patricia Isasa. She was only sixteen in 1976 when she was kidnapped by police and soldiers, tortured and held prisoner without trial for two and a half years. One of Patricia’s torturers was Domingo Marcelini. He is a graduate of the SOA.
A documentary about Patricia’s ordeal and her subsequent investigation to bring her torturers to justice–premiered on Argentinean television last May. It is called "El Cerco" and it features interviews with some of her torturers, who are now in prison awaiting trial. In the film, Patricia Isasa revisits the sites where she had held and describes her torture.
- "El Cerco"–excerpt of documentary about Patricia Isasa.
Nine of Patricia Isasa’s torturers are in prison awaiting trial. In September, Argentinean President Nestor Kirchner ordered her into a witness protection program. This was after the disappearance of Jorge Julio Lopez–another torture survivor who had recently testified against his abuser. Patricia is scheduled to testify against her torturers in the coming months. She joins us in our firehouse studio.
- Patricia Isasa, Argentine torture survivor.
AMY GOODMAN: One of those who disappeared but lived to tell her story is Patricia Isasa. She was only 16 in 1976, when she was kidnapped by police and soldiers, tortured and held prisoner without trial for two-and-a-half years. One of Patricia’s torturers was Domingo Marcelini. He’s a graduate of the School of the Americas.
A documentary about Patricia’s ordeal and her subsequent investigation to bring her torturers to justice premiered on Argentine television last May. It’s called El Cerco, and it features interviews with some of her torturers, who are now in prison awaiting trial. In the film, Patricia Isasa revisits the sites where she was held, and she describes her torture. This is an excerpt.
PATRICIA ISASA: I arrived here for the first time when I was 16 years old, July 30th at noon. They forced me through this hallway. This place was empty. First, they slammed me against the wall. They dragged me across the floor. They beat me. Then they tied my feet to my hands, which were already handcuffed. I was kept like this for one week. Two men appeared, and one of them told me that I had to talk. He said that the other guy was crazy and that I should talk for my own good. This crazy guy was Eduardo Ramos.
EDUARDO RAMOS: I entered the police force in 1973. While I was working for the police as an analyst, the government was overthrown. My job was to monitor terrorist groups in universities. Some people call it "going undercover."
PATRICIA ISASA: After two days, they took the hood off me. They gave me water, a lemon, and they took me to the bathroom. Then Ramos and the other guy came back playing good cop and bad cop. I was told that Ramos was going to kill me and that I’d better talk.
EDUARDO RAMOS: I was not a typical policeman. I was more of a secret agent than a regular cop.
PATRICIA ISASA: I was thrown here. Ramos gave me a warning. He was insinuating that I would be raped. He said, "Tell me if anyone touches you, because we are the only ones that can touch you." I was 16 years old. I couldn’t believe it. Ramos was telling me, "You are my property. If I want, I can rape you."
Ramos was a spy at this law school. He turned in a lot of students here while pretending he was a law student.
My next step was to reconstruct my captivity at Police Station #4, where I learned what it was like to be tortured. This was a camp for torture and extermination run by Mario Jose Facino in 1976. Over here. This is it. It’s this place and this here. It’s both of these. These are the places where they tortured us. We’re looking at them from the outside, but I’m convinced, I’m telling you.
No, I can’t talk. Look, this is it. This is the place. They were over here. On this floor and at this window. This is where I spent the worst days of my life, simple as that. This was stuck, but I managed to open it. And through here, you could see, as you can now, the school. I could manage to see the school. These cracks — if you excuse me — this was stuck. You couldn’t open it. But to be able to see the school, I could suspect what street I was on and where I was being held. After talking with other detainees, we figured out that we were being held at Police Station #4.
I never thought that I would be standing in front of the bench that I was locked to. It’s incredible. 20, 25 years have passed. The bench that I was locked to when I was 16 is still here, same as ever. No one came to look at this place. There’s a case in Spain, a case in Argentina, and a case in Santa Fe fifteen blocks away from here, and no one was capable of coming over to look at this. I have to be the one to show it to you.
This is where I had to force myself not to use the bathroom. I was sent to an absolutely filthy room to pee. This was the only place where you could drink a little bit of water, and it’s all still here. Everything is still here, because no one has been held accountable.
And there, you could clearly see the cells. They were three feet by four feet. You couldn’t even lay down inside the cell. This was the central area where they tortured us. In 1976, the man responsible for the torture was Facino.
MARIO FACINO: I was not involved in any repressive group or anything like that. I was the supervisor of Police Station #4 in Santa Fe. I had an important job. My job was to detain people, who at that time were called subversives. Subversive delinquents.
PATRICIA ISASA: They put a hood on my head and tied my wrists to a rickety old bed. First, I remember feeling something cold on my stomach, and then I felt it. I felt the first electric shock. You feel this burning pain. It’s a horrible thing. They also humiliated me. They were laughing at me. They ejaculated onto me. They were enjoying themselves.
MARIO FACINO: She says they tortured her there. She says that they would lift off her hood and rape her. I doubt all of it.
PATRICIA ISASA: I recognize this place. This is it. I won’t ever forget it. I mean, this was the floor, I’m totally sure. And I was here three days. The worst three days of my life.
MARIO FACINO: A minor detained for subversive activities. No, no. It’s a lie. The woman, Patricia Isasa, says that the police detained her and she knows who detained her and where. Why she says it was at Police Station #4, I don’t know. I honestly don’t. But I can’t recall whether we detained her or not. But if we look at her records, it has to be recorded, where she was detained, when she was detained, and who detained her.
VICTOR BRUSA: I started working at the federal court as a student. When the government was overthrown, I was an employee of the court. I was 27, 28 years old. As a secretary for the judge, I would take statements in the office of the police station. The head of the police station had us take statements. Nothing more!
PATRICIA ISASA: They would hit you. They would torture you. They would hound you. Then they would pick you up and open this door for you. You would go through this door. And whom would you find on the other side? Brusa. This man was on the other side of the door. He would be writing, and he would take out a sheet of paper. You would be all beaten up, bleeding, naked. He’d throw you some clothes, and then he’d say, "Here, sign this." Brusa!
AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt of El Cerco (The Circle), produced by the Argentine television station Telefe. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. When we come back, Patricia Isasa joins us live in studio. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: Nine of Patricia Isasa’s torturers are in prison awaiting trial. In September, the Argentine President Nestor Kirchner ordered her into a witness protection program. This was after the disappearance of Jorge Julio Lopez, another torture survivor who had recently testified against his abuser. Patricia is scheduled to testify against her torturers in the coming months. She joins us now in our firehouse studio. Welcome, Patricia.
PATRICIA ISASA: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: What are you doing in the United States?
PATRICIA ISASA: Well, I’ve been here, because I received some threatens and —
AMY GOODMAN: Some death threats?
PATRICIA ISASA: Yes. In my house and in my office. I’m better here. And I came here, because tomorrow I will stay in the demonstration to try to close the School of America, because it’s a school with assassins, in general, but special. It’s the school who give the training with the most responsibility person in my case. The name of this person is Marcelini, Domingo Marcelini.
He received training in School of America, a terrible training, you know, in the School of America. When you come in, you are a soldier, but you came out, you became an assassin, because they train about torture. They have different techniques about torture, and this is terrible. It’s terrible — it’s not only for me — it’s terrible for a lot of people.
The School for America begin, start the road to Abu Ghraib. But in this road, firstly, they pass through Latin America, and in Latin America they have — they take off — they take away the life with a lot of people, a lot of people. And this is the point, because it is very important to close the School of America, because it’s an immoral place.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Now, you mentioned Domingo Marcelini.
PATRICIA ISASA: Yes.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Now, he was one of the people, a graduate, who was actually involved directly in your torture. Could you talk about his involvement and what happened with you?
PATRICIA ISASA: Well, what happened with me, the military kidnapped me when I was 16 years old. And —
AMY GOODMAN: You were in school?
PATRICIA ISASA: I am in the high school. I was an honor student. And I involved in student activities, only this. And I represent some students. I represent my students with the school, only this.
AMY GOODMAN: The student government.
PATRICIA ISASA: Yes.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And this was in the city of Santa Fe?
PATRICIA ISASA: This is in the city of Santa Fe. And then they kidnapped me. I’ve been disappeared for three months. What is disappeared? Disappeared is when nobody knows where you are, and you don’t know where you are. In fact, when I watched —- when I saw one lady who stayed disappeared, I understand where I am and what happened with me, because I understand this woman, when I watched, oh, she disappeared, but she’s alive, she’s here, I’m here -—
AMY GOODMAN: Because you knew before you were disappeared that this woman was disappeared, so you understood you had met the same fate.
PATRICIA ISASA: Yes, yes. And the first point is, when these guys talk to you, they say, "You are murdered. Nobody know where you are. You don’t know where you are. And we are God."
AMY GOODMAN: What was happening with your family, with your dad, with your — was your mother alive at the time?
PATRICIA ISASA: Yes, yes. My mother was alive. My mother and father tried to find me for months and months and months. And finally, my father tried to find my body. And finally, I appeared.
AMY GOODMAN: How did you appear?
PATRICIA ISASA: Probably — I don’t know. I need some answers. I tried to find justice to have these answers: why they kidnapped me, why I released, why they tortured me. Why? Why? I need to know. Why exactly? I need this answer. For 30 years, I need this answer. I tried to find this answer. It’s not only for me. It’s for my family, for the memory with my mom, and for the Argentine people. We need the answer — why they made these crimes, why they made this massacre against their own people, because Marcelini was Argentine. It’s unbelievable, but he’s Argentine.
He trained as a soldier, but he became an assassin. He fight against their own people, and he broke the honor with the military. When the military have an honor, I hope to have an honor. And what is the honor for the military? You can’t to kill other people who don’t have a gun. And they killed not people who don’t have a gun. They killed innocent people, undressed people. They killed a lot of people. This is — they broke with honor.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Let me ask you, after they held you for two-and-a-half years, when they finally released you, what were the circumstances? What did they say when they released you? Where did they leave you?
PATRICIA ISASA: I remember when they say — they told me, "If you tell this story, nobody believe you, because it’s unbelievable." But I said for myself, I am going to tell this story. It’s not only for me, because for me, it’s happened, more or less, but this happened. But to don’t repeat, some people need to know what happened in Argentina and need to know what’s happening in all the clandestine jails around the world, because today we have a lot of clandestine jails — look, like Guantanamo, for example, and Abu Ghraib — to know.
AMY GOODMAN: Did you just show up at your house after two-and-a-half years? You just show up after they released you? Your parents had been looking for you for two-and-a-half years, assumed you were dead. You just showed up on the doorstep of your house and said, "I am here"?
PATRICIA ISASA: No, no. My parents — when they released me, my parents meet with me firstly, and it’s a special, really — a special and unbelievable moment, because I remember I’m — the first time only strange, because I lived in a small — for two years and a half I stayed in a small, small place. For six months, I stayed all the time, 24 hours, with very strong lights, but strong lights 24 hours for six months. For six months. And we don’t know what day is the day, what time is it, and this is terrible.
And finally, when I release, I remember the nature. Now, the sand, the streets. When you’re released, you return to life, and the life is great. And I think probably when I lives in the concentration camp, when I have this strong experience, probably I reevaluate: what’s great is the life.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Patricia Isasa, who, when she was 16, was kidnapped, disappeared, tortured, raped, released two-and-a-half years later. About ten, nine, eight years ago you began this search —
PATRICIA ISASA: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: — for the people who tortured you.
PATRICIA ISASA: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: How did you find them? It is you who have landed them in jail and who will testify against them. Where did you start?
PATRICIA ISASA: Well, I start with a simple point, because I — this story is in a small town. And when you live in a small town, some people know each other. And I speak. I asked questions with different people, and I speak, speak, speak. And then I have a little simple information, and I took this information. I tried to phone more and more and more, and I found one document. But when I found one document, I found another and another and another, and then I found a lot of document in different archives with the police and with — for the justice, from different archives.
And then, I make a very big search, and I explain what happened during the repression in Argentina. because in Argentina, they tried to lie and said "Dirty War." It is not a war, because a war is two armies fight each other. It’s not a war. It’s lies. Look like the war in Iraq? It’s not a war. It’s invasion. What is the other army in Iraq? They don’t have an army now. What is the other army? What is? Don’t have! They fight against the innocent people. They kill a lot of people, a lot of innocent people, kids, old ladies, men. It’s not a war. War is a problem for the humanity. War is not a solution for the humanity. We need peace. We need to think about peace. We need to give peace a chance.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Let me ask you, when you began to do this search and gather the documents, I think some things had changed in Argentina, but not everything. At least the military dictatorship was ended by then, but you had to go outside of the country first, right?
PATRICIA ISASA: Mm-hmm.
JUAN GONZALEZ: You went to the famous Spanish judge, Baltasar Garzon.
PATRICIA ISASA: Si.
JUAN GONZALEZ: Could you talk about that, why you felt the need to go outside of the country?
PATRICIA ISASA: Yes, because for 20 years, we have an impunity law. They stop the justice for 20 years. But it’s no more different than today. Yesterday, I watch in the news one group with lawyers try to find justice against Rumsfeld, a terrible criminal, in Germany. If you don’t have justice in your country, you need to find justice in any places. It’s a tragedy, because I need to cross the ocean with all of my documents, and I show the documents for Baltasar Garzon. I spoke for five —- more than five hours. And finally he told me, "What can I do?" I said, "Please, request for these people." And he did the -—
AMY GOODMAN: And just to be clear, Baltasar Garzon is the famous judge who went after Pinochet, when he was in Britain, the dictator of Chile, and had him detained. So, you went to him, the documents. And so, what did he do?
PATRICIA ISASA: He request an international request for these criminals, and finally, during 2001, they stay for a short time in jail. The perpetrators in my case, they stayed for a few, few times, 39 days. And then, because to try to go to Madrid, because Baltasar Garzon give the international request to the police.
JUAN GONZALEZ: So, now, he issued an arrest order of them to be extradited to Spain?
PATRICIA ISASA: Yes, to try to extradite with it. But the President de la Rua signed to don’t extradite. But the point is, if you sign to don’t extradite, to don’t give the extradition, you need to open a trial. And you open a trial, finally. I opened a trial in Argentina in 2002. But I need to wait two, three, four years more to open finally, to really open a trial. And now, these perpetrators are in jail, and we are waiting for a —- we said "oral trial." It’s a -—
AMY GOODMAN: So they haven’t actually been tried. They’re held in jail, and they’re awaiting trial.
PATRICIA ISASA: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: And we’re talking about their positions today. One was a mayor of Santa Fe?
PATRICIA ISASA: Yes. He stay in jail. One is a mayor, another is a [inaudible]. The point is this. The boss with the concentration camps, 20 years, 25 years later became a mayor. The interrogator with the torture place, 25 years later, he became a federal judge.
AMY GOODMAN: A judge?
PATRICIA ISASA: Yes. Federal judge. A powerful man. The group with — they tortured the people, who tortured you, [inaudible] who rob you, who put the [inaudible], these kind of people became very powerful people in the police, in a high position with the police.
AMY GOODMAN: And you showed, all of them, their addresses, where they were, and so they were picked up?
PATRICIA ISASA: Yes. They ID all. All — and some documents — I found some documents, which they sign to kidnap people, for example, because they have a very important bureaucracy. They are bureaucrats.
AMY GOODMAN: Bureaucrats.
PATRICIA ISASA: Yes. They’re bureaucrats, yes.
JUAN GONZALEZ: And you mentioned earlier that for 20 years, there was a law of impunity. In effect, what happened is after the military dictatorship, there was a deal made that there would not be prosecution of those who had conducted the terrorism. Was that what happened?
PATRICIA ISASA: No. In the first time, during the first time with a [inaudible], we have a trial against the high position in the military, a trial against the junta, the comandante, as we said in Spanish, but during 1987, they tried to make a coup, and then they make a deal, and it happened, impunity law. And we have this impunity law for 15 years. Last 2004, President Kirshner take away the impunity law.
JUAN GONZALEZ: So it was President Kirshner who basically paved the way for the people down the chain of command who participated in the torture to be held responsible?
PATRICIA ISASA: Yes. He opened the door to make trials in Argentina.
AMY GOODMAN: And Patricia, it is the president, Kirshner, who has put you under protection, ever since what happened in September. September 18th, Jorge Julio Lopez went missing, a day before the former police commissioner, Miguel Etchecolatz was sentenced to life in prison for the murder, torture and kidnapping of six people. 900 former officers and collaborators from the military dictatorship could reportedly face trial right now, face charges?
PATRICIA ISASA: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: So when you are in Argentina, you’re under protection?
PATRICIA ISASA: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: When do you testify? Are you afraid to return? You have tens of thousands of people, what, 100,000 protesters marched in the streets of Buenos Aires in October, demanding the release of Jorge Julio Lopez. But he’s gone now, went missing twice, first when he was captured in the 1970s and tortured, and now again.
PATRICIA ISASA: Yes. Probably the paramilitary killed him, suppose they killed him.
AMY GOODMAN: So, why would you return?
PATRICIA ISASA: Because it’s my compromise with my life; because I need to find justice; because Argentina is my place, is my home; because I have rights to return; because I talk about the [inaudible]; because I need answers, and I tried to find this answer for the trials in my own place; because I have rights to stay in this place.
And the perpetrators will need to take away, to put in jail, with a good trial. I never have a trial. But I tried they have a trial. I never have a defense. They never showed me the proof. But I prefer, we are going to show the proof for them. They need to make a good trial, because we need justice, because we need to mark a line, a line to divide the crazy people, the bad people, the assassin people, with the normal people. The normal people would like — we need to live in peace.
AMY GOODMAN: Patricia Isasa, I want to thank you very much for being with us, as you head now down to Fort Benning, Georgia, to join thousands of people protesting the training of Latin American officers at the Georgia base. Thank you for joining us. We’ll continue to follow your story.