Be careful what you wish for…you just might get it. That’s what my momma always said.
Here I am, sedated, beaten and bound, on a death flight. It’s ironic that getting pushed from a plane over the water was my ideal ending to my stay at El Campito, but it’s better than the alternative: getting shot in the back of the neck is typically not survivable.
I knew when I accepted this assignment that I was playing the odds, and the odds were not in my favor. My special ops training definitely has given me an edge, but my captors are a frightening cross between evil, erratic, and unaccountable. Since my mother was a native Argentinean before she met my father in the states, I look and speak the part fluently. This is half the reason I was approached for this; the other half was because they knew that I had relatives among “the disappeared”. That factor usually contradicts protocol, but in this case it gave proper motivation.
I remind myself to labor my breathing. It is harder to fake unconscious than one might imagine. It is standard training to be subjected to large, sustained doses of Pentothal, since many international agencies like to use it as a truth serum. Our intelligence discovered that the junta was using it as a sedative. Twenty minutes ago, I was able to confirm that.
“14, 33, and you, 40! On your feet! Follow me.”
The sunlight was blinding as we stepped out of the zinc shed where we were held. The air was so fresh that I let it invade the deepest branches of my lungs; the shed was pitch black and iron red hot, reeking of excrement and infected wounds. Most of us were tortured daily to some degree. Not to extract nuggets of information, but just for the sake of doing it. Every day I felt blessed to have endured simulated torture at the hands of my own men; it served its purpose well. I prayed for the others.
Seven other men and two women were drawn out of the other two sheds, and we were lined up in the center of the dusty compound.
“You are the lucky few,” I doubted that, “who we are moving to the new detention center in the south. You should rejoice and dance!”
No one moved.
The bullets sprayed the dirt in front of us, “DANCE!”
We raised our limbs like awkward marionettes…not for a moment fully trusting our sadistic puppeteers.
“On the truck…go!”
When the truck slowed on the airstrip, the man next to me whispered, “Perhaps they do not lie. Any place else is paradise compared to this…”
I didn’t want to tell him he would not survive the hour. “Perhaps. Are you a man of faith?”
He nodded and contorted his bound wrists to reveal a tattoo of the Cross.
I returned his nod, “Then either way, brother, we will end this day in paradise.”
The butt of a gun pummeled me in the stomach, “No talking! Now get on the plane!”
We boarded the small cargo plane, and sat along the benches lining the cabin.
“Now, because you have been exposed to a variety of illnesses at El Campito, you will need a vaccination before you can be transferred into the new center.”
Before the plane left the ground, most were slumped over on the prisoner next to them. I concentrate on keeping my eyes in unfocused slits, and let the saliva fall freely from my mouth. Two soldiers begin to strip my clothing, and I am afraid that they can hear my heart racing. They each grab an arm and drag me to the open bowel of the cargo door. It’s all I can do not to fight. In the cover of darkness, I can’t tell if they are about to throw me into the Atlantic, or the Rio de la Plata. If it’s the ocean, I pray they will slit my stomach open so that I will sink like a stone and die quickly.
But instead of the coolness of steel on my flesh, they push me into the abyss.
I assume the position for a water landing, and the impact knocks the breath from me.
But the water that fills my mouth…it is not salty.
Nor is bank impossibly far.
I—the missing link between rumors and truth—should make it to the safe house by dawn.
I hope the truth will set them free.
Author’s note: The Dirty War of Argentina raged from 1976 to 1983. In those years, as many as 30,000 citizens—primarily trade-unionists, students and activists—were illegally arrested for subversion, and subsequently tortured and murdered. They became known as “the disappeared”.
In 2002, declassified documents revealed that on October 7, 1976, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, a Nobel Peace Prize Winner, gave the green light to the Argentine military dictatorship, even in the face of accusations of massive human rights violations. Kissinger advised them, “We won't cause you unnecessary difficulties. If you can finish before Congress gets back, the better."
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