A Cry From Argentina: 'Close Guantanamo'

"Gitmo is going to remain open for the
foreseeable future," said an unnamed White House official to The
Washington Post this week. For guidance on the notorious U.S. Navy base
in Cuba, President Barack Obama should look to an old naval facility in
Buenos Aires, Argentina.

When Ana Maria Careaga was 16 years old and
pregnant, Argentine military thugs snatched her off the street, dragged
her to a clandestine detention center and tortured her for four months.
It was 1977, and a military dictatorship had just staged a coup in
Argentina. Thirty thousand people were "disappeared" between 1976 and
1983 under the brutal junta. The junta enjoyed the enthusiastic support
of Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who is credited with authorizing a
multigovernment terror network called "Operation Condor" that killed
upward of 60,000 people across South America.

Decades later, Argentina has emerged from
the dictatorship and risen from economic collapse as one of the new,
progressive democracies of Latin America. Careaga, now 50 years old, is
the director of the Instituto Espacio para la Memoria, the Institute of
the Space for Memory, at the old Navy Mechanics School in the middle of
Buenos Aires, where 5,000 prisoners were imprisoned, tortured and most
later killed. The institute is committed to maintaining the memory of
this dark chapter of Argentine history.

Ana feared she would lose her baby. Among
the horrors she endured were repeated electric shocks with a cattle prod
inside her vagina. While she was imprisoned, her mother, Esther
Careaga, met with other mothers of children who had been disappeared.
They gathered in the Plaza de Mayo, holding pictures of their missing
children and walking in a circle to raise awareness, to protest and to
gain international support against the violence and terror of the
Argentine state.

After Ana was released and received
political asylum in Switzerland, Esther Careaga did not stop marching in
the Plaza de Mayo. I asked Ana why. She said: "When I was freed, my
mother returned to the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo. The others said,
'Why are you here if you have already recovered your daughter?' My
mother said, 'I will continue until all the disappeared appear, because
all the disappeared are my children.'

Esther Careaga and a group of other Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo and two
French nuns were disappeared, taken to be tortured and killed, between
Dec. 8-10, 1977. They were taken to the old Navy Mechanics School. With
grim sophistication, the Argentine government drugged their tortured
victims and piled their limp, yet living, bodies in planes. They were
flown over coastal waters and dropped thousands of feet to their deaths.
Unusual winds and tides washed Esther Careaga's body, and several
others, ashore, and they were ultimately identified.

Standing in the place where her mother was
last alive in the torture center, Ana showed me a book with a redacted
U.S. diplomatic memo obtained under the Freedom of Information Act,
showing the U.S. embassy in Argentina knew that her mother had been
killed and her body recovered, something Ana and her father did not
learn for decades.

Now, the surviving victims themselves, and
their reclaimed government, are trying-and in most cases convicting-many
of the criminals (Kissinger has yet to be tried, and is said to be very
careful when traveling internationally to avoid arrest). Ana is
attending two trials simultaneously: On Mondays, Tuesdays and
Wednesdays, she attends the trial of those who tortured and murdered her
mother. For the rest of the week, in the same courtroom, she attends
the trial of her own torturers. She serves as a living object lesson in
the patient, disciplined pursuit of justice.

Which brings us back to Guantanamo. While
the U.S. preaches to Cuba about its lack of democracy, maintaining an
embargo against the country for decades, you would think it would set up
a model of democracy on the piece of Cuba that the U.S. controls.
Instead, it has formed a globally reviled concentration camp there, a
Kafkaesque land beyond the reach of law. About 180 men are now interned
at Guantanamo Bay, with diminishing prospects of a day in any real
court, for years subjected to interrogations and to extended isolation
that is both legally and actually torture. President Obama promised to
close the prison camp. Congress now is unlikely to fund any Guantanamo
shutdown and prisoner transfer, leaving the president shackled to
Guantanamo, consigning the prisoners there to indefinite detention and
despair, and deepening the disgust with which many in the world view the

Ana Maria Careaga is a torture survivor who
goes to work in the very facility where her mother was tortured and
spent her final hours. Her advice for President Obama is simple: "Close

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

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