The Demise of an Argentine Cabeza de Turco: “Unmistakable Traces of Cyanide”

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“A mountain of money!” Cash stash from the Argentine maleta scandal. “This is gabbling Donald Segrettism,” huffs Mrs. Kirchner.

“This was the same thing that happened with (disappeared witness Julio) Lópz when at first they said he was at his aunt’s house or under a bridge. Yesterday, this was a death from natural causes, and today we are talking about cyanide poisoning,” complained attorney Myriam Bregman.

“Hay rastros indubitables de cianuro”: “There were unmistakable traces of cyanide.”

Adriana Meyer reports for Pagina 12 (Argentina).

Who killed an accused torturer scheduled for trial?

Did he kill himself?

Never mind the Cristina Kirchner “mountain of money” flap with the U.S. Dept. of Justice, which she called an instance of — I think the best translation is — “political dirty tricks.” We will just file that under our ongoing note-taking on “the mountain of money” as a master narrative in the journalism of political scandal.

I read the Argentine press regularly, know some people who work in it, and for the life of me, cannot understand what the hell actually goes on down there. I keep meaning to try harder.

The story so far.

Thousands of dissidents were allegedly tortured at the Navy School of Mechanics, known as ESMA, for seven years beginning in 1976.

Argentine human rights group:

A cuatro años de la anulación de las leyes de impunidad, el subprefecto Héctor Febres es el único miembro de los grupos de tareas de la ESMA que será juzgado únicamente por cuatro casos de tormentos a los detenidos. “En la primera causa contra la Armada Argentina comparece un tipo de la Prefectura. Este juicio es una vergüenza”, sostuvo Carlos Lordkipanidse, querellante e integrante de la Asociación de Ex Detenidos- Desaparecidos (AEDD).

Four years after the overturning of impunity [amnesty] laws, Febres is the only member of the ESMA task force who will be judged solely for four cases of torture of detainees. “In the first case against the Argentine Navy, you have this guy from the [Navy department]. This trial is a disgrace,” said Carlos Lordkipandise, a plaintiff and member of the Association of Former Detainees and Disappeared Persons (AEDD.)

See also

A Michigan prof gives you an idea of some of the alleged conduct at issue:

The Navy Mechanics School (ESMA) in Buenos Aires was Argentina’s most important clandestine detention and torture center (of 340 documented centers). Torture at ESMA became virtually a routinized, bureaucratic activity. A trip to ESMA typically began with “Caroline”, a thick broom handle with two long wires running out the end. The victim was stripped and tied to a steel bed frame. Electricity was applied to the victim, who often was periodically doused with water to increase the effects. It was unhurried and methodical. If the victim was a woman they went for the breasts, vagina, anus. If a man, they favored genitals, tongue, neck. Sometimes victims twitched so uncontrollably that they shattered their own arms and legs. Patrick Rice, an Irish priest who had worked in the slums and was detained for several days, recalls watching his flesh sizzle. What he most remembers is the smell. It was like bacon.

Ramming electrified broom handles up people’s asses.

It gets worse. An Argentine court has convicted a Catholic priest, Christian Federico von Wernich, for aiding and abetting such conduct. Cur deus homo? No good reason, apparently.

So who killed the man? Did he pull a Hermann Goering?

El último prefecto que estuvo a cargo de la custodia de Febres y el jefe de la sede Delta, donde estaba detenido, fueron arrestados. No se sabe si el miembro del grupo de tareas de la ESMA se suicidó o fue asesinado. Piden que todos los represores vayan a cárceles comunes.

The last officer in charge of Febres, along with the chief of Delta headquarters, where he was detained, have been arrested. It is not know whether the member of the ESMA task force killed himself or was murdered. Other defendants are asking to be transferred to common jails.

“Encontramos rastros indubitables de cianuro en el cuerpo”, le dijo el perito por teléfono a la jueza. Eran las diez de la mañana y seguía la autopsia al cadáver del represor Héctor Febres en la Morgue Judicial. Sandra Arroyo Salgado, la magistrada a cargo de la investigación de la muerte del prefecto, salió del juzgado federal de San Isidro hacia la Capital. Por la tarde, los expertos hicieron una contraprueba que dio el mismo resultado.

“We found unmistakable traces of cyanide in the body,” the medical examiner told the judge over the telephone. It was ten in the morning, and the autopsy of Febres was still underway at the medical examiner’s officer. The judge in charge left the federal court in San Isidro for Buenos Aires. In the afternoon, experts conducted a countertest that yielded the same result.

That is, she went to the scene of the crime.

Sin moverse del lugar, la jueza firmó la orden de detención de dos miembros de la Prefectura Naval, el último prefecto que estuvo a cargo de la custodia de Febres, en la sede Delta de esa fuerza de seguridad, y el jefe de esa dependencia, prefecto mayor Rubén Iglesias. Ambos fueron separados de sus cargos, al tiempo que el ministerio del Interior entregó una carpeta con toda la información del caso a la presidenta Cristina Fernández de Kirchner. Todavía resta dilucidar si el represor fue asesinado o se suicidó, pero los abogados querellantes en el juicio en su contra, cuya sentencia debía conocerse hoy, responsabilizaron al Estado por su muerte y reclamaron que “esta misma noche” todos los represores sean trasladados a cárceles comunes.

On the spot, the judge signed the arrest warrant for the two Navy officials — the officer in charge of Febres’ custody at Delta headquarters, and the chief of this installation, Rubén Iglesias. Both were removed from their posts, and the Minister of the Interior delivered a briefing to the president on the matter. It remains to be established whether the repressor [sic] was murdered or committed suicide, but plaintiff’s attorneys in his trial, whose sentence was to be read today, blame the State for his death and demanded that “this very night” all [defendants] be transferred to common prisons.

Ayer a las 9.30 los peritos y médicos forenses retomaron su tarea sobre el cadáver de Febres, encontrado muerto el lunes en la habitación de la Prefectura zona Delta en la que estaba detenido mientras era juzgado por delitos de lesa humanidad cometidos cuando revistaba en la ESMA. Debían seguir con la parte correspondiente a los análisis toxicológicos, aunque el color azulado del rostro había sido una primera señal del posible envenenamiento, dato que no trascendió por el secreto del sumario impuesto por la jueza Arroyo Salgado. Sin embargo, ayer se supo que encontraron una “alta concentración” de cianuro en la sangre y en las vísceras del represor. “La contraprueba dio positiva y se determinó que el cianuro fue ingerido por boca”, confirmaron fuentes judiciales. En ese procedimiento estuvieron presentes peritos de la querella, la familia y la fiscalía.

Yesterday at 9:30 experts and physicians resumed work on Febres’ body, found dead on Monday in the Delta zone of the Navy Prefecture where he had been detained during his trial for crimes against humanity committed while assigned to ESMA. The toxicology exams are ongoing, but the blue coloration of his face was the first indication of poisoning — a fact not previously published because the judge imposed secrecy on the matter. However, it was learned yesterday that there was a “high concentration” of cyanide in his blood and viscera. “The countertest came back positive and it was determined that the cyanide was ingested by mouth,” judicial sources say. Experts representing the prosecution, the man’s family, and the defense observed the procedure.
“Politically symbolic”: Hermann Goering dead in his Nuremburg cell.

Apenas le avisaron del hallazgo del potente veneno, que despierta connotaciones tanto políticas como literarias, la jueza ordenó un nuevo allanamiento y otras medidas tendientes a detectar la presencia de cianuro en los objetos que manipuló Febres y establecer cómo pudo haber llegado al lugar donde estaba alojado.

As soon as she was informed that a powerful poison, which carries political as well as literary connotations [!], had been found, the judge ordered another search and other measures designed to detect the presence of cyanide in objects handled by Febres, and to establish how the substance got to the location where he was being held.

A última hora de la tarde llegaba a la Casa Rosada el informe que elaboró el Ministerio del Interior para la Presidenta con datos seguramente aportados por la Policía Federal, a cargo de la investigación desde que la jueza separó a la Prefectura.

In the later afternoon, a report came into the presidential palace from the Ministry of the Interior, informing the president of the information gathered by the federal police left in charge of the investigation after the judge left the scene of the incident.

“Es lo mismo que ocurrió con (el testigo desaparecido Julio) López cuando al principio decían que estaba en casa de una tía o bajo un puente. Ayer era muerte natural y hoy ya hablamos de envenenamiento con cianuro”, se quejó la abogada querellante Myriam Bregman.

“This was the same thing that happened with (disappeared witness Julio) Lópz when at first they said he was at his aunt’s house or under a bridge. Yesterday, this was a death from natural causes, and today we are talking about cyanide poisoning,” complained attorney Myriam Bregman.

Febres estaba siendo juzgado desde el 18 de octubre por el Tribunal Oral Federal 5, por los secuestros y aplicación de torturas a Carlos Lordkipanidse, Carlos García, Josefa Prada de Olivieri y Alfredo Margari, quienes estuvieron cautivos en el centro clandestino que funcionó en la ESMA y lograron sobrevivir. “Esto es una cuestión de gravedad institucional y confirma lo que sospechábamos que pasaba en su lugar de detención, estos tipos te están mostrando lo matamos y te lo ponemos bien evidente, el cianuro es bien simbólico,”, dijo indignado Lordkipanidse a Página/12. “La causa ESMA se convirtió en la causa Febres, estaba el gordo solo sentado ahí, sin Astiz, Acosta y los demás, y fue un cabeza de turco, no sólo porque son los que pagan sino porque les cortan la cabeza”, agregó el sobreviviente.

Febres had been on trial since October 18 in Federal Court No. 5 for the kidnapping and torture of Carlos Lordkipanidse, Carlos García, Josefa Prada de Olivieri and Alfredo Margari, who survived their imprisonment in the clandestine center that functioned at ESMA. “This is a serious institutional matter and confirms what we suspected was going on at the location where he was detained, these people are telling you, We killed him, and making it very obvious, cyanide is quite symbolic,” an indignat Lordkipanidse told this newspaper. “The ESMA case has become the Febres case, it was just the Fat Man sitting there, not Astiz, Acosta and the others. He was a patsy …”

On cabeza de turco:

La expresión “ser cabeza de turco” (servir de tête de turc) nació en Francia y pronto se difundió en España y América. Proviene de las ferias de diversiones y se debe a los juegos de tiro al muñeco. En ellos nunca faltaba alguna vestido de turco: quien lo descabezaba o le volteaba el fez rojo ganaba un premio. Hoy, hacer de alguien la cabeza de turco es endilgarle la culpa de otros. Una cabeza fácil de arrancar y que siempre viene bien para no perder la propia.

The expression, “serve as a Turk’s head” originated in France and soon spread to Spain and the Americas. It comes from amusement parks and refers to a shooting gallery game. In this game, there is always a doll dressed as a Turk: The shooter who knocks his head off and makes his fez spin wins a prize. Today, the phrase means putting the blame on others. Providing a head that is easy to knock off, used as a way of avoiding losing one’s own.

Similar to Portuguese laranja, I guess.

¿Es posible que se haya suicidado?, preguntó este diario, tras confirmar que Febres estaba “muy deprimido” en sus últimos días. “Nadie se suicida con tanta cantidad, es obvio que fue un envenenamiento, estaba todo azul”, dijo uno de los peritos. “Por más que se haya querido suicidar alguien se lo proveyó, estaba detenido en un organismo del Estado, si alguien entra así hay una cadena de responsabilidades, desde el que aceptó no ponerlo en una cárcel común, y dejaron encima que lo custodie la propia fuerza”, respondió Lordkipanidse. “Si se hubiera suicidado es igual de grave”, consideró el abogado Rodolfo Yanzón, otro de los querellantes. Este diario le preguntó si se sorprendió con la noticia dado que ayer había expresado que todo indicaba que había sido una muerte natural. “Más que sorpresa tengo preocupación porque esto hay que ligarlo con López, siguen estando ahí, incluso si alguien le dijo ‘suicidate’”, contestó.

Could he have killed himself? this newspaper asked, after learning that Febres was “very depressed” in his last days. “No one kills themselves with that quantity, it is obvious he was poisoned, he was totally blue,” said one of the experts. “As much as he might have wanted to kill himself, someone provided it to him, he was imprisoned in a government facility, if someone brought it in then there is a chain of responsibility, since they agreed not to hold him in a common prisons, and let him be guarded by the Navy,” Lordkipanidse said. “If he committed suicide, that is equally serious,” said attorney Yanzón of the defense team. This newspaper asked if he was surprised at the news published yesterday that this was a natural death. “More than suprised, I am worried, because this ties it to López, they are still there, even if someone says he killed himself,” he argued.

En 2004, la Cámara Federal resolvió que los procesados por delitos de lesa humanidad debían ser custodiados por el Servicio Penitenciario, pero, en los hechos, la orden sólo se cumplió en forma parcial. “Desde el primer día dijimos que Febres debía ir a una cárcel común y nos decían que estábamos locos. El TOF 5 nos respondió que ese lugar (Prefectura) lo había dispuesto el juez de la causa Nicolaides, por la que fue excarcelado en 2005, pues entonces el juez de la causa ESMA Sergio Torres y el TOF 5 son los responsables de la muerte, además de Aníbal Fernández y la Prefectura”, enumeró la abogada Bregman en la conferencia de prensa de Justicia Ya!


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