88. Memorandum From Robert Pastor of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs (Brzezinski)1


  • Human Rights in Argentina

Our Embassy in Buenos Aires has sent us a 14-page, single-spaced Memorandum of Conversation with Alfredo Bravo, co-President and one of the founders of the Argentine Permanent Assembly for Human Rights.2 Bravo spent four hours with our Embassy officials detailing the horrors of his imprisonment and torture by the Buenos Aires police. Bravo’s story is a compelling one, and I found myself reading through the entire 14-page Memcon,3 though I had intended only to skim it.

Because I believe his story is important as we begin to lay the groundwork for a new strategy to Argentina, I have prepared below a short summary of that Memcon.

Bravo’s account is that of a classic “disappearance”—plain-clothesmen entered the classroom where he was teaching, took him for “questioning” blindfolded and in an unmarked car. Then begins the horror.

Bravo was held for ten days in various detention centers. During that time he was hooded constantly, naked, and denied food and water. The list of tortures he experienced and witnessed reads like a primer of cruel and unusual punishment. He himself was:

—beaten, both by hand and rubber clubs;

—subjected to electrical shocks via a four-pronged electric picana until his mouth and jaws were paralyzed;

—subjected to a bucket treatment where his feet were held in a bucket of ice water until thoroughly chilled and then shoved into a bucket of boiling water;

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—subjected to “the submarine”—repeatedly being held under water until almost drowned.

Beyond the physical torture were a variety of psychological horrors that Bravo was forced to watch or listen to:

—As he was moved from detention center to detention center, Bravo was thrown in vans with dead bodies and other naked prisoners showing physical evidence of violent torture.

—Group tortures occurred in which Bravo was placed in a circle of prisoners holding hands and electricity was applied; a woman prisoner was raped with the group standing by and her boy friend shot when he objected; the group was beaten.

Throughout the ten days of torture, the interrogation was a litany of questions about the activities and political affiliations of people known and unknown to Bravo. In the last session, Bravo and a number of other prisoners were taken to a field which appeared to be a garbage dump. Bravo, still hooded, heard the sounds of beatings and many shots being fired. Then he and a few other prisoners were returned to the truck and to detention.

Following that episode, further interrogation was conducted on an entirely different plane—as civilized people conducting a conversation. Then, Bravo was made a “regular prisoner”, and warned not to talk of what had happened to him or he would be found to have committed suicide. During his months in La Plata prison, Bravo heard other stories paralleling his own and worse.

In his talk with Embassy officials, Bravo emphasized that he was no superman and had cried out with pain like any other man. He said he provided this information “to show you what you are fighting for”.4 He asked that the Embassy treat the information carefully, “as my life is in your hands”.5

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Staff Material, North/South, Pastor, Country Files, Box 1, Argentina, 1–8/78. Confidential; Limdis. A copy was sent to Mathews. At the top right-hand corner of the first page of the memorandum, Brzezinski placed a check mark and wrote the phrase “a compelling, forceful report. ZB.”
  2. July 10. Attached but not printed. Schneider sent the memorandum of conversation to Christopher and Oxman. On the August 11 covering memorandum, an unknown hand wrote: Copies sent to Vaky, Newsom and Pastor. (National Archives, RG 59, Office of the Deputy Secretary: Records of Warren Christopher, 1977–1980, Lot 81D113, Box 13, Human Rights—Argentina IV)
  3. Inderfurth inserted a handwritten comment in the right-hand margin: “so did I. Worth reading. Rick.”
  4. An unknown hand highlighted this sentence and underlined the phrase “show you what you are fighting for.”
  5. At the bottom of the memorandum, Inderfurth wrote, “ZB, This is a very good summary of the memcon. Do you want to use it in the WR? Rick.”