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Tales of torture

A former member of Chile's national intelligence agency describes some of the methods used against political prisoners.

Last updated: 15 Dec 2013 09:42
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Manuel Contreras, the director of Chile's national intelligence agency, centre, regularly visited Colonia Dignidad, a German sect in southern Chile which served as an experimental torture centre for the Pinochet regime [EPA]

Chile's feared national intelligence agency, DINA, was responsible for the torture and killing of thousands of political prisoners after the country's 1973 military coup.

It established a secret interrogation centre in Colonia Dignidad, a German sect in a remote region of southern Chile, where Paul Schaefer, a former Nazi army nurse and the leader of the sect,
taught the Chileans new and brutal methods of torture. The bodies of scores of his victims were later discovered buried on the grounds of the Colony.

What follows is a testimony from Samuel Fuenzalida, a former DINA agent who was charged with transporting prisoners to the Colony. 

In March 1973, I had to do compulsory military service for a year. In September of that year the coup d'état took place. I was assigned to Tejas Verdes, DINA's training area.

There we were received by DINA's director, Manuel Contreras, who told us ... we had been selected from the army to join the intelligence service to fight communism.

I was 18 years old.

The Colony - Extra

Then in April of 1974, I was sent to Villa Grimaldi, one of the worst interrogation centres. My superiors never justified the torture. It was just a fact. They didn't have to explain anything because I saw how they tortured a woman .... It was part of the job and I knew it. But I wasn't trained to torture, just to find information, tracking, things like that.

One day I was asked to help transfer a prisoner to Colonia Dignidad. At the time they didn't say Colonia Dignidad, they would just say "to the German place". It was winter, probably June or July of 1974 ... [when] an officer named Romes Segovia asked me to accompany him down south. Our job was to pick up a detainee who was in prison in another secret interrogation centre known as Tres Alamos and take him to the Germans.

When I went to get the prisoner ... he was physically in very bad shape. His nickname was El Loro, although his real name was Alvaro Vallejo Villagran. I recognised him because I had seen him at yet another interrogation centre ... four months earlier. I thought he was already dead, but he wasn't. He wasn't able to walk and I had to hold him from his arm on my shoulder to get him to walk and put him in the truck .... 

During a stop in the journey the prisoner and I were left alone, and he said to me: "I have a feeling they're taking me to the same place where I've already been." El Loro had already been to Colonia Dignidad. He said he knew the way, the road. As we drove, he told me that he felt death was coming. And he said: "If you're Catholic, pray for me."

We left him at the entrance of Colonia Dignidad. At first I thought it was just another Chilean military barracks, because I saw guns, they were wearing uniforms of the Chilean army - with the rosette of the Chilean army, the olive green jacket. I saw heavy weaponry. But then I realised, no, this isn't the Chilean army. The ones wearing the uniforms were Germans, but with Chilean army uniforms.

We were sent inside to have dinner. Hours passed. The German women served dinner that night, at around 1 or 2am. They were waiting for us with food. We sat down at the table, we were all sitting down and suddenly the 'Professor', Paul Schaefer, appeared from another room. He appeared suddenly, I didn't notice from where, but he appeared. It was a kind of secret door .... [Then] he went through a door and came back with a dog and he made a signal to us with his hands. "Fertig," he said. It was a word that I've never forgotten. Fertig. It means it's over, it's done. And I [understood] that El Loro, the prisoner, was dead.

People would say that they did more macabre things [at Colonia Dignidad], they would take out corneas, take out eyes.

Samuel Fuenzalida, a former DINA agent

No one asked any questions, least of all me. And then the food came, very typical German food. It was the first time I'd had a German meal eaten like they do in Germany.

Why did they bring the prisoner all the way ... to Colonia Dignidad? Perhaps because the torture methods were more scientific, people would say that they did more macabre things, they would take out corneas, take out eyes. I never saw that but those were the rumours.

I do know that they experimented with the prisoners, to see how much pain they could withstand, with the cooperation of some Brazilians, because there were people there who spoke Portuguese.

They would inject Pentothal, or they would inject things that weren't normal. In fact, when I spoke to prisoners who had survived at least one visit, they told me the interrogation was very different to the one at Villa Grimaldi. They told me that they were far more atrocious there, that they underwent much harsher interrogations, trying to test the behaviours to see how much they could resist. They used injections, but also methods that were very cruel as well.

When my year of service was up, I left the army and the country. The experience had been traumatic and it changed my life forever.

 
Al Jazeera Correspondent can be seen each week at the following times GMT: Thursday: 2000; Friday: 1200; Saturday: 0100; Sunday: 0600; Monday: 2000; Tuesday: 1130; Wednesday: 0100; Thursday: 0600.

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