Macabre new details emerge about Argentina's 'dirty war'

March 23, 1996
Web posted at: 6:20 a.m. EST

From Correspondent Jonathan Mann

CIUDAD DE LA PLATA, Argentina (CNN) -- New, chilling details have surfaced on a story that is two decades old, but still unfolding.

An ex-Navy officer from Argentina, Adolfo Scilingo, said in an interview that in 1970s Argentina, not only were political prisoners routinely dropped over the sea to drown, but they were made to dance first in a macabre celebration of the freedom they were told was awaiting them.

The strange revelation comes on the anniversary of a turning point, though not a happy one, for the South American nation. On Sunday, Argentina marks 20 years since the military took power and began its "Dirty War" on dissent. In the mid-1970s, left-wing guerrillas had sought to destabilize the country. When the Junta took over, anyone perceived as a leftist paid for that, dearly.

Until now, the military has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing in its campaign against leftist guerrillas and political dissidents. The bones have been found in mass graves, but there has been no final accounting of the numbers. Human rights groups estimate that 30,000 people "disappeared."


Scilingo, a cashiered Navy captain, says he knows where at least 4,000 of them went. First, to detention. Then, to their deaths.

"They were played lively music and made to dance for joy, because they were going to be transferred to the south," he said. "After that, they were told they had to be vaccinated due to the transfer, and they were injected with pentonadal. And shortly after, they became really drowsy, and from there we loaded them onto trucks and headed off for the airfield."

Scilingo recounted the details in an interview with the prison television agency from the jail where he is serving a sentence for fraud. His criminal record might be reason to doubt his account, except that it has been corroborated by at least one other officer, who said he too knew that prisoners were routinely dropped into the ocean. (136K AIFF sound or 136K WAV sound)

Argentinean president Carlos Menem calls Scilingo a crook. But Menem has been reluctant to challenge the military or re-examine the past too closely. Argentina's military was given amnesty for its dirty war, but many questions remain, and thousands of people are missing. And with the 20th anniversary, the wounds the war opened are hardly healed.

Related Sites


Send us your comments.
Selected responses are posted daily.


Copyright © 1996 Cable News Network, Inc.
External sites are not endorsed by CNN Interactive.