Surviving the Dirty War


A Conversation with an Ex-Political Prisoner from Argentina

In July 1976, when Patricia Isasa was 16, she traveled to the province of Santa Fe in Argentina as her class delegate to the High School Students Union. Not long after arriving, she was taken by a commando group of the state police and "disappeared" for two-and-a-half years, during which time she was beaten, raped, and electrocuted.

Twenty-one years later, Isasa -- now and architect -- initiated an investigation into her kidnappers' identities, then unknown to her. Due to her relentless search, eight people currently await trial, including an ex-federal judge, an ex-assistant secretary for security, and several ex-policemen.

On November 30, 2005, Isasa visited Brandeis to tell a packed audience in Golding Auditorium about her experiences, her search, and the parrallels she draws between what happened to her and the abuse of detainees in Abu-Ghraib prison in Iraq.

Argentinia's "dirty war" began on March 24, 1976, when a military junta led by Lt. Gen. Jorge Rafael Videla seized power and imposed martial law. In an attempt to eradicate "subversives," the army conducted mass detentions, torture, and murders.

Democracy was restored in 1983 following the election of President Raul Alfonsin, when a newly-formed National Commission on the Disappeared began to investigate the victims of the dirty war. However, the commission's report did not seek to establish responsibility, only to chronicle the facts. In 1987, Alfonsin passed the law of Due Obedience, preventing military officials from being charged with war crimes. In 1990, President Carlos Menem pardoned roughly 228 members of the military who still faced trial for human rights abuses.

Only in 1998 did the Argentine Congress repeal Due Obedience. Today, some of those military leaders are facing trial.

Isasa has spoken across the United States to raise American awareness of facilities like the School of the Americas; located at Fort Benning, Georgia, the SOA is a combat training school for Latin American soldiers. Over the past 59 years, the SOA has trained over 60,000 soldiers in counterinsurgency techniques, sniper training, commando and psychological warfare, military intelligence, and interrogation tactics. These graduates have consistently used their skills to wage a war against their own people, which Isasa can personally attest to; one of her captors was a graduate of the SOA.

In 2001, the School of the Americas was renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation.

In addition to leading a conversation about her experiences, Isasa showed a film titled "El Cerco," which depicted her return to the police station where her torture began. The station was virtually unchanged, even 25 years after her abduction.

The film also featured interviews with her abductors, all of whom deny any wrongdoing.