Pur Autre Vie

I'm not wrong, I'm just an asshole

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Children of the Dirty War

A stunning piece by Francisco Goldman in the New Yorker this week, describing a bizarre facet of the "dirty war" in Argentina. It turns out that when pregnant women were disappeared, or when disappeared women got pregnant after being raped in captivity, the captors would allow the women to bear the babies, even though the women were usually ultimately killed. The children were "adopted" (today the Argentines are more comfortable with terms like "appropriated" or "stolen") and raised by members of the regime, by friends of the regime, and sometimes by innocent couples who didn't realize what was going on.

After laws were passed to prevent the prosecution of those responsible, the babies presented something of a loophole: because the regime had never acknowledged the baby-theft, these cases were not covered by the law. The result was that legal charges could be brought against the "adoptive" parents when the children were identified, though charges could not be brought against, say, the men who killed the mother. As DNA testing came online, a great deal of drama ensued. Children had been raised, in some cases, by the killers of their mothers, and in other cases by couples who knew the killers and were given the children as a favor. The children thought of the couples as their (adoptive) parents. And to cooperate with the DNA testing meant potentially sending the only parents these children had ever known to prison. Bear in mind that (until the laws were repealed and investigations resumed) those couples were the only people who could go to prison for the atrocities of the Dirty War. Goldman notes: "Women ran into their torturers and rapists in supermarkets." The torture was pretty brutal:

One former detainee told Feitlowitz, "Our bodies were a source of special fascination. They said my swollen nipples invited the 'prod'"—the electric cattle prod, which was used in torture. "They presented a truly sickening combination—the curiosity of little boys, the intense arousal of twisted men."

Sometimes the mothers were able to nurse their newborns, at least sporadically, for a few days, or even weeks, before the babies were taken from them and the mothers were "transferred"—sent to their deaths, in the Dirty War's notorious nomenclature.
For decades, those children constituted the only avenue for justice in Argentina. Read the whole story, it is fascinating. As a side note, the Ford, Carter, and Reagan administrations took roughly the positions you would expect in the Dirty War. No wonder the U.S. is so well-loved around the world.

[Update: changed a few passages in the post for clarity. You can hear Goldman discuss the piece here.]

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