Three men in the fall of 1977 entered my place of work, showed police identification, said I was wanted for questioning and escorted me outside to a run-down automobile.
"My hands were handcuffed behind my back, but my treament was correct as long as the vehicle was in the city. However, after we crossed the bridge into the province of Buenos Aires, the automobile pulled off into a side street.
"I was taken out of the car, punched and then blindfolded by the three men.The men discussed among themselves whether to kill me. One suggested that kerosene would be better as it disguised the body smell better.
"They again punched me and finally one man stated that they couldn't kill me. I had to confess first."
Thus begins one man's account of his brutal and inhuman experience with Argentina's military security forces, his 11 days of torture and his more than 12 months' captivity as a political prisoner. The Argentine government never offered public evidence of terrorist activity or illegal political involvement against this man. Nor, he says, was he ever charged with any crime.
The experience is not atypical. Although somewhat improved over the last year, Argentina still ranks among the world's leading human rights offenders.
The Carter administration has been trying to persuade the government to end the extra-legal arrests and other serious abuses that continue on an almost daily basis. But U.S. policy has been a combination of carrot and stick and there are questions about how well it is working.
Many Argentines support the anti-terrorist war waged by the military since it returned to power in 1976. At that time, the country was teetering toward chaos and the government faced two urban guerrilla groups thhat had carried out spectacular kidnappings and political murders on a scale surpassing even those of Italy's Red Brigades.
But the tactics of the campaign - disappearances, torture, thousands of political prisoners and alleged summary executions - have deeply troubled human rights groups such as Amnesty International and democratic governments in the Western hemisphere and Western Europe.
The story of one man's suffering in the anti-terrorist excesses is all the more chilling because of the dry, factual way he tells it, ina taped conversation with Western diplomats who made the transcript available. The transcript also is known to be in the possession of the U.S. government.
While it would be impossible to verify all the man said, there is no reason to believe he has fabricated it. The details are consistent with hundreds of other such statements given to Amnesty International and diplomats in Buenos Aires by persons held and later released from the 16 jails in Argentina where political prisoners are said to be held.
These are stories from prisoners who made it back, but the Permanent Assembly for Human Rights, Argentina's most prominent human rights group, has documented the cases of 3,211 persons who disappeared and never again were seen by their families. The assembly and Amnesty International estimate that, in all, 15,000 Argentines have disappeared, a figure with which most diplomatic sources agree.
The government has admitted holding another 5,500 prisoners under PEN, a law that allows the government to hold persons suspected of illegal political activity for indefinite periods without charges or trial.
The man interviewed by the diplomats said he was taken to a prison several hours' drive outside Buenos Aires. He went on:
"After a period of time, the car stopped. A new voice gave orders to my abductors on where to take me. I was stripped naked and my jewelry and briefcase were taken. A hood was pipeed over my head.
"Shortly after being stripped, I was spread-eagle on a table. My hood was removed. Before any questions were asked, a four-pronged electric prod was run over my chest from my neck to my waist, like a rake. I was excruciaingly painful.At the start of this deadlon and all following torture sessions, I was addressed with mocking courtesy as estimado (distinguished one)."
"After the first round of torture ended, I was so full of electricity that my jaws and tongue were paralyzed. I was allowed to rest between rounds until I regained some use of my jaws and tongue. A second round of applications began."
"At this point, I was unable to communicate. I had no use of my jaw muscles and tongue. Again, the same questions were repeated. I was incapable of replying. During this round I was given an injection I believe was some sort of cardiovascular stimulant to enable me physically to endure continued electric shock treatment."
"At the conclusion of the last round, I was put in the back of a van with a man and a woman who I believe were dead. I saw through my blindfold a part of a woman's face which was beaten bloody. I was taken to a second place of detention. I alone was taken out of the van."
"When I entered (the new prison) a food was placed over my head. After some time I was taken into a room and subjected to a torture called 'The bucket.' My feet were forced into a bucket of ice . . . for five or six minutes. After this time had passed, one of my torturers, as if to be nice, said to the others let me take my feet out."
"But my feet were then jammed into another pail containing boiling hot water. The pain was intense. After several minutes, my feet were again placed back into the bucket of ice water and the questioning began. I was subjected to four cold-hot cycles . . .
"I was then carried, as I could not walk, and placed on the wooden floor of a small cell. Up a staircase, a friendly voice consoled me that it was only a few steps more. I then slept for an unknown period.
"Some time later, I was taken from my cell and brought into a room where there were other prisoners. I was told to grab the other prisoners' hands and they formed a circle. Suddenly electricity was passed through the entire group.
"While I was held in this communal torture room, a woman was raped in the midst of the other prisoners. A prisoner shouted that the woman being raped was his friend, and went berserk and attacked the guards. He was severely beaten. Suddenly a muffled shot was heard. I believe the man was killed in the room.
The account goes on to detail other tortures to which its author says he was subjected. He says he was beaten, forced to watch other prisoners being executed and subjected to the infamous "submarine," where a man or woman is held under water just to the point of drowning before being allowed to come up for air. This is repeated to five or six times and, each time, the prisoner is told that if he does not answer the questions asked of him, he will be held in the water until death.
At the end of his torture sessions, the man says he was brought back to Buenos Aires. He was told "that if I talked of what happened to me, I would be found to have committed suicide. I was then put in a cell with a hangman's noose hung from a pipe and left there.
A PEN decree was issued for my imprisonment. I remained incarcerated for close to a year."
In a sense, the man was lucky. He survived his torture and was eventually released. This fact tends to support his contention that he never engaged in terrorist or illegal political activity - because usually only those the military decides have done nothing wrong are released.
Although the number of Argentines who disappear - either for a few days or forever - has dropped substantially over the past year, the number of reported disappearances still averages about 20 a month. The Permanent Assembly estimates that the number of reported cases is only about one-fifth the actual number.
Sources within the government fully admit that many of those who are taken away are taken by anti-terrorist military units set up even before the 1976 coup. These sources say that President Jorge Videla and other high military officials are trying to bring the situation under control.
But there are said to be hard liners withing the military who disagree with changing their way of operating, and who still have enough power to carry out political kidnapings and torture when they believe it warranted.
Despite the efforts to sharply reduce and eventually end the political kidnapings, all factors of the military here close ranks when it comes to foreign criticism and what they perceive as undue foreign pressure. They believe their critics do not understand the scope and seriousness of the threat posed by urban guerrillas here after 1974.
The urban terrorists have, in fact, kidnapped, wounded and killed many hundreds of Argentines over the last four years. The military came to power determined to end this threat with whatever means it considered necessary. However, many observers believe that thousands of innocent people were swept up in the anti-terrorism campaign. Videla has publicly admitted that there may have been "excesses."
In many ways, the Argentines copied the methods of the Chilean military government that came to power in 1973.
But the situation in Chile has improved. Only one disappearence has been reported this year. There have been only 30 reported cases of torture and the number of political prisoners has been reduced to 120, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross.
The Vicariate of Solidarity, the Catholic Church's official human rights group in Santiago, says 650 persons have disappeared since the Chilean coup a number that, while substantial, in no way compares to the number of those said to have disappeared in Argentina.