From 1976 to 1983, a military junta run by General Jorge Videla imprisoned Rodriguez and thousands of others suspected of speaking against government corruption. Rodriguez, a former town clerk of Cinco Saltos, Patagonia, was arrested in front of his two toddler boys. He was released three years later after Amnesty International advocated for his freedom. (Videla was sentenced to life in prison for abuse of human rights in 1985.)
Rodriguez, 70, now works as a counselor at Freedom From Torture, a London charity that provides medical care to international victims of violent interrogation. He moved to England upon his release, he said, for safety from persecution. He speaks about his imprisonment today to raise awareness. Torture, he said, is inhumane – and ultimately ineffective.
Storyline: What was your time in prison like?
Rodriguez: They had a system of torture — a very well-organized system. They used electric shock. They used beatings. In the United States, they waterboard. In Argentina, they used something called El Submarino. They put your head in a bucket of water with your hands tied behind you. They pulled you out just before you drowned. One day, I slipped and broke my arm. They put it in a plaster and continued to torture me.
Storyline: How did you cope with the pain?
Rodriguez: We had to preserve ourselves. We had to stay alive to come out and denounce what was going on. It just doesn’t make sense. You don’t always get information, but you always hurt people.
I don’t want to talk about just me, though. It happened to many, many people. Torture happened in all of South America. I want to emphasize that, and I want to tell you: It’s still happening all over the world.
Storyline: Why do you believe no one deserves what happened to you, and what was outlined in the Senate Report?
Rodriguez: You are dehumanizing not only the victim, but also the people who are allowed to torture another human being. Everyone is hurt.
There is something wrong in our society, across humankind. People today feel moralistic when they’re talking about the U.S. But everywhere, it’s the same. This affliction is on everyone in the world. I hope the Senate report makes people angry. We must prevent indifference.
Storyline: Did the CIA tactics described surprise you?
Rodriguez: It’s no secret, how the CIA tortures. No surprise. The news is that someone decided to publish it. I printed it out and read it at home in London. The interrogation techniques reminded me of my time in prison. I made a lot of connections.
The Senate report made me very sad. At the same time, I realized, we now have another tool in our campaign against torture. More people will learn about what’s going on, and that it’s happening everywhere.
Storyline: As a counselor for survivors of violent interrogations, do you work with anyone who was questioned by the CIA?
Rodriguez: I can’t say that. But I can say I see people from everywhere.
Storyline: How did you start to heal? How do they?
Rodriguez: For me, It was a very healing moment when I was in front of a court of law. After 30 years, I was able to sit in a tribunal in front of the people who tortured me. It’s not a sense of revenge I felt. It’s a sense of justice. A sense of reparation, knowing it won’t happen again in the future.
It helps just to be heard. People come to us to show us they exist, that this happened to them. We hear their stories. We listen to their pain.
Storyline: You say violent interrogations are inhumane. But do you think they’re an effective way to gather information?
Rodriguez: You will do anything to survive. So, there is a tendency to give false information.
I was very lucky. A friend of mine in prison, he told me, “The guards already know everything.” They were expecting specific answers from me. I was able to gather my thoughts in moments of great tension and fear. I didn’t deny what they already knew about me. I still believe that saved my life.
Not everyone is this lucky, or knows how to act, or can even think clearly enough to answer questions.
Storyline: Do the effects of torture stay with you all these years later?
Rodriguez: Physically, my lungs are not very well. I have some symptoms of emphysema because of El Submarino. Being in prison is bad for you, generally, because you lack good food and medical attention.
Your emotional health is affected because you are separated from your people. your family… You live in constant fear of guards. But there is healing. I don’t have nightmares. People can be helped to stop the nightmares.
What I have now is a sense of duty. I don’t want to have been through that for nothing. I’m proud to be doing something to help our international society, our human rights.