Categorized | Human Rights, South America

Brazil torture report and the battle for memory

By Toya Mileno
Brazil torture graphic

Recently the U.S. Senate published their report on CIA torture. In Brazil, a Truth Commission was established to investigate the crimes committed by the state from 1948-88, including the period of the military dictatorship of 1964- 85. This commission ublished a report almost three decades later exposing the horror that many lived through during two decades of torture, censorship, assassinations, and terror. Now we know that babies were tortured in front of their mothers, we know about the indigenous populations who were completely assassinated with napalm bombs.

This process, which has happened in Argentina, Chile and elsewhere, is referred to as the battle for recovering the country’s memory. It is the right to have the real memory and the truth. People want to know the truth of what happened. People want justice.

And now we know part of the truth. The report of 4,400 pages recognizes the killing and disappearance of 434 people during the period of 1964 – 1988. Of this number 191 were identified as dead without remains being found, and the bones of 33 were found and returned to their families. In the other 210 cases the families won’t even have the right to bury the loved ones because they are still “disappeared.”

The document also shows 377 agents of the state who were responsible for these crimes, of whom 179 are still alive. Among the 29 recommendations listed by the commission, is a recommendation for the punishment of those guilty of these crimes, who until today have been protected by the Amnesty Law of 1979, created by the dictators themselves, and which was recently reviewed by the Supreme Court. The Court decided to keep the law as it is and allow them to remain free.

Torture is still very alive in Brazil society. The lack of punishment of the earlier torturers helped establish it, and anyone who has ever been under police custody has been terrorized in one sense or another. These practices were taught to Brazilians by the United States, through the School of the Americas program or other direct training from the CIA. They would come and conduct “trainings” on homeless people and random prisoners – to later use on political prisoners, their families, until it reached the point where they really use it on anyone .

Later on the Brazilians taught the other South American militaries and police how to conduct these types of interrogations. The shared techniques and intelligence were part of Operation Condor.

The United States needs to “recover its memory.” The people of the United States should be demanding to know what the country’s actual history of torture is. Because it didn’t start after 9/11 as the Senate report claimed. It has actually been part of the United States’ foreign policy for many decades, and it has been part of its domestic policies as well — prisoners being kept in solitary confinement for decades, the murders of killing of Black and brown people and the continued abuse of their communities.

These reports are just a start but it is truth we need to learn, at the very least in respect for those who lived through this terror. Unfortunately much more needs to happen for real justice to exist. In Brazil, the police need to be demilitarized, those responsible for torture at all levels should be put in jail, including the doctors who would check the prisoners and let the guard know how “much longer he could take it,”  so the prisoner would endure the maximum suffering but not die.

In the United States the same should happen, all those responsible for the post 9/11 torture program should be arrested. A Truth Commission should be established to investigate torture programs the U.S. conducted or supported around the world before 9/11, and the United States government should be brought to justice for its crimes against humanity.


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