By Carmen Jimenez
Buenos Aires, Apr 1 (EFE).- Argentine ex-soldier Silvio Katz says of his experience in the Falklands War that his own superiors were a greater enemy than the rival British forces.
Now, on the 40-year anniversary of the brief April 2-June 14, 1982, conflict over that British overseas territory in the South Atlantic Ocean, he has joined other alleged victims in accusing roughly 100 former high-ranking military officers of torture.
“I believe no more veterans should die of natural causes or suicide without seeking justice,” Katz, whose father escaped the Holocaust and relocated to Argentina in 1940, told Efe.
A total of 170 statements from purported victims of physical and psychological torture have been compiled for the case, which was filed 15 years ago and is now before the Supreme Court.
Only four indictments have been handed down to date.
Jeronimo Guerrero – a lawyer for the Malvinas Islands Ex-Combatants’ Center (CECIM) in La Plata, the capital of Buenos Aires province, and one of the plaintiffs in the case – told Efe that the Argentine court system has been dragging its feet for well over a decade and is “an accomplice to torture.”
Argentines refer to the Falkland Islands as Las Malvinas.
“We believe (the courts) have gone along with the pact of silence and impunity that was instituted by the (1976-1983) dictatorship and based on a state policy designed so the Argentine people are unaware of what happened to their soldiers during the war,” he added.
The Supreme Court now must decide whether the statute of limitations in that criminal case has expired or not, Guerrero said, adding that the plaintiffs also have taken the matter to the Washington DC-based Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
FORTY YEARS OF IMPUNITY
The military dictatorship sought to boost its waning popularity by invading the Falklands, an action in which most of the Argentine combatants were young men aged 18-20 who were fulfilling their compulsory military service.
But Argentina’s rapid defeat accelerated the junta’s downfall and led to the restoration of constitutional rule in 1983.
The soldiers went into the war with little training and without warm clothing and proper footwear for the low temperatures on those islands.
Upon their return home, those same inexperienced soldiers “were made responsible for the heavy defeat,” Katz said.
“I also had the misfortune of being a Jew in the Falklands War. I was part of a group where both the officer and NCOs had a love of anti-Semitism, to put it mildly, and I was tortured because of my religion,” Katz added, noting that he returned to Argentina with “trench foot,” an ailment caused by prolonged exposure to cold temperatures and damp conditions.
But he says the psychological torment has haunted him the most because as a Jew he was blamed for the defeat and labeled a traitor.
Another ex-soldier, Eduardo Ortuondo, says he was tied to stakes for seven and a half hours under the snow as punishment for having stuck his finger in a jar of jam.
Ortuondo, who had completed his compulsory military service in November 1981 and volunteered at the age of 19, recalled how elated the soldiers were when they arrived in the Falklands.
“We never imagined what was going to happen. We never supposed we’d have an enemy prior to the British that was the Argentine army,” he said.