National Truth Commission Presents its First-Year Findings

Heloísa Starling presenting the structure of the DOI-CODI at the National Truth Commission's One-Year Press Conference

Heloísa Starling presenting the structure of the DOI-CODI at the National Truth Commission’s One-Year Press Conference (Photo:

Posted by Patrick Duffy

On May 21, 2013 the Brazilian National Truth Commission gave a televised press conference in Brasília to present the progress it has made since its inception. Truth Commission member Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro introduced the panel, consisting of himself and fellowmembers Rosa Cardoso, José Paulo Cavalcante Filho, José Carlos Dias, Claudio Fonteles and Maria Rita Kehl. Also present at the panel, through special invitation, were Ameríco Incalcaterra, representing the United Nations’ Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Eduardo González, senior researcher for the International Center for Transitional Justice. The conference consisted of introductory remarks by Pinheiro, a presentation of the Commission’s findings (given by Professor Heloísa Starling of the Federal University of Minas Gerais), and a question-and-answer period for the press.

Throughout his prefatory remarks on the structure and aim of the Commission itself, Pinheiro made some important clarifications:

—The Truth Commission does not have “VIP victims,” and every case is treated equally.

—The findings presented in this press conference are merely partial results of the Truth Commission’s research.

—The Commission should not be seen as arriving too late in Brazil’s transitional justice process for an important reason: whereas the timely Argentine Truth Commission had little to no documentation to analyze, its contemporary Brazilian counterpart is faced with a daunting 97 million pages worth of documentation. Without modern technology, it would be nearly impossible for the Commission to sort through this sea of information.

—The systematic use of torture as political repression in Brazil had been used as early as the coup in 1964, as opposed to beginning with the Institutional Act Number Five (AI-5) in 1968, which suspended habeas corpus.

Pinheiro identified three main sources of the Truth Commission’s research:

1. The archives of the nearly 1250 sub-structures of the DOI-Codi (Department of Information Operations – Center for Internal Defense Operations), the agency of repression and information during the military regime.

2. Other documents provided by the Brazilian State (e.g. the archives of Petrobras).

3. Testimonies of surviving victims and suspects of torture, provided in the (so far) 15 public audiences held in 9 states across Brazil.

Following Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro’s introductory remarks, professor Heloísa Starling began her four-part presentation of the partial results of the Truth Commission’s discoveries.

Part 1. Hiding of Documentation from the Brazilian State. The Brazilian Navy deliberately concealed information from President Itamar Franco in 1993, when he requested information from the Brazilian Navy, Army and Air Force regarding political disappearances during the dictatorship. By cross-checking a 1972 report of deaths from the CENIMAR with its 1993 response to President Itamar Franco, Truth Commission analysts concluded that in 1972, the CENIMAR already recorded the deaths of many political prisoners, whereas in 1993 they reported that these same individuals were variously exiled, disappeared or imprisoned. The released documents on the 11 individuals presented by Heloísa Starling was the only disclosed information  from the CENIMAR, whereas 12,071 pages of similar documentation remained undisclosed to President Itamar Franco.

Part. 2: Chain of command within the DOI-Codi. “Ultra-secret” documents detailing the structure of the DOI-Codi (Department of Information Operations – Center for Internal Defense Operations), the organ of political repression responsible for the disappearances, tortures and deaths of individuals arrested for opposition to the military regime, reveal that its chain of command reached and included the Brazilian Ministers of Defense, thus implicating the Brazilian State in crimes against humanity. The documents included a chart illustrating how local Secretaries of Defense, the Federal Police and other arms of government intel had three direct lines of communication to the Ministers of Defense—revealing two more in addition to the one of which was known. According to other documents, the DOI-Codi of Rio de Janeiro perpetrated 735 cases of torture between 1970 and 1973.

Part. 3 CENIMAR recognizes violence against its own agents Documents reveal that soldiers were trained by the CENIMAR to become infiltrators of leftist and revolutionary groups, notably to participate in the Student Movement. In a letter to the Minister of the Marines, the Commander of the CENIMAR recognizes that violence was done to one such double agent and that his actions were “full of merit.” This document shows that violence done to double agents was perpetrated to the same degree as normal revolutionaries, and it did not deter further violence, but rather it was seen as an occupational hazard.

Part. 4 The Use of Torture: 1964-1968

The Truth Commission’s research shows that torture had been used as a means of interrogation as early as 1964. It had been originally accepted that the use of torture had began with the Institutional Act Number 5 (“AI-5”), whose suspension of habeas corpus made torture de jure legal. Whereas torture as a means of repression did skyrocket after the imposition of the AI-5, the Truth Commission found that torture has always formed the base of  repression since the installment of the military regime in 1964. Moreover, in 1964, all of the forms of torture which would be used throughout the entire period of the dictatorship had already been taught, used and established as early as 1964.

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One Response to National Truth Commission Presents its First-Year Findings

  1. Pingback: The Brazilian Truth Commission after One Year | Americas South and North

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