"I would leave him inside the bag for awhile and when I saw
he was almost dead I would remove the bag.
If we looked we could find almost two thousand types of torture."
By Rodolfo Espinoza
"The captain said: `We are going to take care of those people.’ He drew his pistol
and passed it to the lieutenant, the lieutenant to the corporal. The corporal looked at
me. I had never shot anyone in my life. `You have to do this .’ Then, I was forced to
hold the people who were there and kill them."
That’s the way an Army soldier described his initiation as a killer for the state. He
had to kill innocent people only because they had by chance witnessed a murder committed
by another soldier. Like him, everyone is given anonymity in Working in Violence:
Brazilian Torturers and Murderers Reconstruct Atrocity, a 2000-page volume scheduled
to be finished in October. The book, written by Schenectady’s Union College sociologist
Martha Huggins, is the result of interviews with 27 police agents, all identified as
murderers and torturers.
Huggins concluded that among informants, murderers and torturers, the latter are the
most despised among the policemen themselves. This has created the idea among them that
each person is never a torturer but his colleagues are. The sociologist has been studying
the Brazilian police system for 25 years. The book will deal specifically with policemen
involved in torture and murder during the military regime, which lasted from 1964 to 1985.
Huggins opted for the less known torturers, not the big names or those who gave the
orders, but those who were involved directly "with the dirty work" of killing or
torturing. One of these men described some of his methods of torture: "Nail
extracting, tooth pulling, eye perforation, genital perforation, electrical shocks on the
scrotal area and eardrum perforation. Another method was to place an individual’s head
inside a plastic bag while his feet and hands were tied. I would leave him inside the bag
for awhile and when I saw he was almost dead I would remove the bag. If we looked we could
find almost two thousand types of torture."
Rio’s daily Jornal do Brasil, which recently dedicated a full page to the
subject, reported that the state’s repressive machine worked like a well-run business.
They had a weekly routine with scheduled meetings and predefined tasks. Mondays, for
example, were used to deal with internal problems and concerns, it was the "dirty
laundry" time, as they used to call it. On Wednesdays, the agents received sealed
envelopes in which their secret missions were detailed.
As an agent told Huggins: "They would call us and would show us the missions,
present slides, the guy who was going to be eliminated, the places he frequented, people
who lived with him, some members of his family, all his habits and favorite sports."
The American sociologist fitted the torturers into four categories according to the way
they justified their actions. The first are those who believed they were doing the right
thing for what Huggins calls a "personal cause." In these cases, the torturer
places the blame of the torture on the tortured himself, who in some way would provoke the
agent to retaliate with just ire and punishment.
In a second category are those classified under the label "diffusion of
responsibility." The policeman would only be a reflex of a whole society that is too
violent. Thirdly, there are those who believed that everything was permissible, including
torture and killing, because they were fighting an "internal war." Finally, a
fourth group invoked "professionalism" to justify their actions.
Huggins told O Jornal do Brasil that one day she would like to forget about the
more macabre stories she heard. She also found out that torturing does not pay. Some
torturers have become alcoholics and most wish to forget the past. The majority of the
agents she met is also facing poverty. From the 27 agents she interviewed only three were
promoted to a managerial position.
When the author has a chance to talk with Brazilian police agents she always tells
them: "Be careful. You are doing dirty work for the government and afterwards instead
of getting richer you will get sick."