Hidden Terrors Part 4
excerpted from the book
the truth about U.S. police operations in Latin
by A.J. Langguth
Pantheon Books, 1978, paper
Despite later disclaimers, it is clear that Mitrione was heading
for Uruguay entirely aware that his main assignment would be to
improve the capacity of the nation's police to put down the insurgents.
Certainly, Uruguay was no sinecure; in fact, the easy assignments
were becoming increasingly rare. As rebellion spread around the
world, criticism of the tactics U. S. advisers employed was becoming
harder for the Office of Public Safety to shrug off. Ugly reports
had come in from Athens, where the Greeks believed the CIA had
conspired to bring a military junta to power; from Portugal, where
Washington had supported a dictator for generations; and from
South Vietnam, where reports of savagery were the most persistent
In Portugal, officers from the intelligence agency called
PIDE were boasting to their victims that a grade-school education
was no longer sufficient for their work. The new interrogation
methods were too complicated. The source of PIDE's improved technical
expertise seemed clear enough. U. S. officials from the Lisbon
embassy called in regularly at PIDE headquarters; the director
of PIDE's investigative branch was the Portuguese representative
of Interpol; and in the late sixties, four senior PIDE inspectors
In Vietnam, although civilian victims were often nameless
to the U. S. troops, there were exceptions. Ms. Nguyen Thi Nhan,
a widow, was arrested several times in Saigon, the first in 1969,
and charged with being a member of the National Liberation Front.
At police headquarters, she was given electrical shocks, and an
iron rod was forced up her vagina. Three Westerners in U. S. uniforms
watched her being tortured, and the police told her that they
were CIA officers. One of them ordered a Vietnamese interrogator
to ram needles under Mrs. Nhan's fingernails.
Another woman, Mrs. Nguyen Thi Bo, was taken into custody
that same year in Danang because she had neither an ID card nor
money with which to bribe the police to release her. At the police
station, Mrs. Bo had a stick poked into her vagina; then her face
was held in a toilet bowl filled with shit. She was next moved
to Non Muoc station, where she was questioned by five U. S. agents
wearing green fatigues. After they tied her up, three of the men
Stories like these were beginning to discredit the U. S. intelligence
services, and there were worse to come. Although it was not yet
public knowledge, the United States had been running torture camps,
which were always passed off as schools for survival. Two such
secret installations, in northwest Maine and in California, near
San Diego, were run by the navy. One torture technique involved
strapping the navy men face up and pouring cold water on towels
placed over their faces until they gagged and retched. A navy
doctor stood by to prevent them from drowning.
On the army's side, Donald Duncan, a Green Beret, went through
training at Fort Bragg, where the sergeant giving a lesson in
hostile interrogation described in detail a number of tortures,
including the lowering of a man's testicles into a jeweler's vise.
Finally a soldier in the class interrupted: "Are you suggesting
that we use these methods?"
The class laughed, and the instructor raised a solemn face
with mocking eyes. "We can't tell you that, Sergeant Harrison.
The mothers of America wouldn't approve." The class burst
into more laughter at his cynicism. "Furthermore," the
sergeant said with a wink, "we will deny that any such thing
is taught or intended."
Torture training was not restricted to North Americans. On
the island of Niteroi, across the bay from Rio, the Brazilian
military had set up a camp modeled after that of the boinas verdes,
the Green Berets. The students were kept awake, starved, and caged.
They were hung on beams in mock crucifixions. As a way of breaking
a man, it proved too effective. After eighteen hours, the Brazilian
soldiers were confessing to crimes they had not committed.
As a result of all this, the Office of Public Safety faced
serious problems in 1969. Its connections with the CIA, the war
in Vietnam, and the similarities in the accounts of torture turning
up around the world were rendering the advisory program politically
vulnerable. Worse yet, the rebel movements, especially in Latin
America, seemed to be growing. In the eyes of OPS and the U. S.
military, the Tupamaros of Uruguay presented a particularly grave
threat to established order throughout the hemisphere.
In 1963, Uruguay's newspapers reported an event incomprehensible
to most readers. A group of burglars broke into the Swiss Club,
a hunting lodge outside Montevideo, and made off with some old
and worthless weapons. (Five men were involved. One was Sendic.
Another was a medical doctor, a club member nicknamed Loco.)
That was the beginning. Then other brazen criminals held up
customs officials at Uruguay's borders and took their weapons
away from them. Although the police intelligence unit began to
suspect these arms thefts were somehow connected, it was not until
1965 that their scraps of information fit into a pattern.
The final clue was a convention. Those Communists who wanted
to stay within the law and work through elections, as Salvador
Allende was doing in Chile, agreed to meet with dissident leftists
who took recent events in Brazil as a portent for all Latin America.
Out of that meeting came the Tupamaros, officially the Movement
of National Liberation. Police spies called them "the most
intelligent and clever of the group."
In time, the Tupamaros produced their share of revolutionary
literature. But at the start, their approach was to put results
before theory, and they took as their slogan, "Words divide
us; action unites us."
That decision to forego manifestos in favor of guerrilla action
was shrewdly calculated to win over Uruguay's liberals. Throughout
1965, the Tupamaros bombed a number of subsidiaries of United
States corporations. They did not try to maim or kill. Their bombs
were only noisy public-relations devices to introduce themselves,
and at each site they left behind leaflets on which the name Tupamaro
was printed. The name derived from an Inca Indian chief, Tupac
Amara, who had led a rebellion against the Spanish in Peru in
1780. A noble name, a revered cause. Yet that revolt had failed,
and Tupac Amara had been drawn and quartered in a public square.
At first, the new band sought to avoid confrontations with
the police, a tactic that earned Byron Engle's contempt. Cowardly,
he called them, because they did not stand up and fight. Half
a world away, General William Westmoreland was making the same
complaint about the National Liberation Front.
When the Tupamaros did appear in public, they took the guise
of public benefactors. One December, ten young people stole a
food truck, drove it into a run-down quarter of Montevideo, and
passed out turkeys and wine to the poor. Breaking into armories,
the Tupamaros stole police uniforms and wore them to hold up banks
around the city. If customers were waiting in line, the Tupamaros
insisted that the clerk enter each deposit so that the bank, not
the customer, would be liable for the losses. On one occasion,
they burst into a gambling casino and scooped up the profits.
The next day, when the croupiers complained that the haul had
included their tips, the Tupamaros mailed back that percentage
of the money.
On August 7, 1968, the Tupamaros tried a new tack. They kidnapped
the closest friend of President Jorge Pacheco Areco, Ulises Pereira
Reverbel, and held him captive in what they called a people's
prison. From a public-relations standpoint, the Tupamaros could
hardly have chosen better. Pereira, who once killed a newsboy
for selling a paper attacking him, had been denounced as the most
hated man in Uruguay.
The Tupamaros held Pereira a mere four days. But it was long
enough to set the Uruguayans laughing at him, at their police
department, at the president. When Pereira was released, not only
unharmed but apparently a few pounds heavier, the poor in Montevideo
were quoted as joking, "Attention, Tupamaros! Kidnap me!"
While the Tupamaros were staging this popular guerrilla theater,
the government of Uruguay was, in fact, undergoing changes very
different from any the Tupamaros were promoting. Since 1950, Uruguay
had been a part of the International Monetary Fund. Disregarding
Batlle's admonitions, the country had been accepting foreign loans,
many from the United States, to see the country through droughts
and drops in the price of wool or meat.
Although the Tupamaros were dramatizing the need for reform,
more Uruguayans were probably convinced of that need by an inflation
rate of 136 percent. To overhaul the government, voters decided
to do away with the nine-member executive and return to a single
president. In March 1967, they elected as president General Oscar
Gestido, whom both supporters and detractors compared to Dwight
Eisenhower. Before the year was out, Gestido died.
Almost as soon as he took office, the vice-president, Jorge
Pacheco Areco, began to cry "Communist." An Uruguayan
joke ran that they had voted for Eisenhower and got Nixon.
Torture was not a total novelty to Uruguay. Even before President
Pacheco's war on communism, gangsters and petty thieves had been
slapped around in jailhouses. But the use of violence against
political prisoners was a barbarity that Uruguayans thought they
had put behind them along with the death penalty.
Philip Agee learned otherwise when he went with his CIA station
chief, John Horton, to call on Colonel Rodriguez, Montevideo's
police chief. The purpose was to involve the chief in a CIA plot
that would pressure Uruguay to break diplomatic relations with
the Soviet Union.
The CIA plan was inventive. Dick Conolly, an operations officer,
had chosen four Russians from the Soviet embassy and concocted
for them a history of subversion within Uruguay's labor movement.
Another CIA man, Robert H. Riefe, made up stories about leftist
officials in Uruguay's unions to interlock with Conolly's fiction,
thereby suggesting a conspiracy. The fabricated report was to
be slipped to an Uruguayan politician who would use it to justify
severing diplomatic ties with the USSR. First, though, to give
it an appearance of authenticity, Horton and Agee took the CIA
handiwork to police headquarters.
As Rodriguez leafed through the false report, Agee heard an
odd sound, low at first but gradually growing louder. Agee listened
more closely. It was a human voice crying out. Probably a vendor
on the street, he thought. Rodriguez told his aide to turn up
the radio. A soccer match was in progress. By then the moan had
become a scream. The chief called again for the radio to be turned
up, but the screaming drowned out the broadcast.
Now Agee knew that a man was being tortured in the small room
above Rodriguez's office. He suspected that the victim was a leftist
named Oscar Bonaudi, whom Agee had recommended to Otero for preventive
detention. The screaming continued. Rodriguez finally accepted
the CIA report; and with their mission accomplished, Horton and
Agee walked out to their Volkswagen for the drive back to the
To most CIA officers, the Uruguayan police were an unending
source of amusement-their ineptness, the hopelessness of ever
making them efficient. That was what made a man like Saenz so
pathetic, that he was so sincere, so straight, that he could never
see the humor of the situation.
John Horton was a prototype of the sardonic CIA operator.
Now on the drive back, he referred to what they had heard from
upstairs and gave his usual nervous laugh.
Shortly afterward, Otero confirmed that Bonaudi had been the
man Agee had heard screaming. Braga, the deputy chief of investigation,
had ordered the torture when Bonaudi refused to talk. His beatings
had gone on for three days. Agee resolved that he would never
turn over another name to the police as long as Braga stayed with
This was not the first time Phil Agee found himself troubled
by his work. Secrecy no longer seemed so glamorous; and the aliases,
with their surnames always capitalized, struck him as less larkish:
Daniel N. GABOSKY for Ned Holman; Claude V. KARVANAK for Bob Riefe;
Jeremy S. HODAPP for Philip Agee.
Other aspects of the job also disturbed him. In Washington,
one training duty had been to run name checks for Standard Oil
to reassure the company that it was not employing leftists or
subversives at its overseas plants. The lists came in each week
from Caracas, where the security officer of a Rockefeller subsidiary,
Creole Petroleum, was an ex-FBI agent with close ties to the CIA.
The checks had been only part of the game in those days. Now,
in the field, those same security checks went on informally for
the local branches of U. S. corporations. A club of seven or eight
U. S. businessmen met weekly in Montevideo with the U. S. ambassador
and the CIA station chief. The head of the General Electric subsidiary
sat in, and the man from Lone Star Cement. (But not the International
Harvester representative; he was considered a loud mouth.) The
subversive checks were run for them out of the CIA station's local
Faced by both the direct and indirect evidence of how his
various identifications were being used, Agee could come up with
no better solution than not to give the police any more names.
What if he had protested the torture? Agee was sure that they
would not have listened to him.
To have an impact, any protest would have to come from either
the CIA station chief or from the U. S. ambassador. Horton's dismissive
laugh suggested that he would not be the one; and safe at the
embassy, the ambassador never heard the screams.
Those were the conditions of Dan Mitrione's nice and peaceful
new assignment. Once again, as in Rio, the surface of his life
seemed agreeable. The Mitriones moved into a two-story house on
Pilcomayo, a quiet residential street. As wife of the chief adviser,
Hank took Spanish lessons and involved herself in community affairs,
particularly a thrift shop run by the women of the U. S. community.
Yet, the Tupamaros allowed the new chief adviser no time at
all for settling in before they made another dramatic strike.
It had been more than a year since Pereira Reverbel had been released.
Now the Tupamaros carried off another wealthy victim, Gaetano
Pellegrini Jiampietro, and extorted about $60,000 for his return.
Mitrione reported to Washington that they had probably been inspired
by the recent kidnapping of Burke Elbrick in Brazil.
The police themselves were vulnerable. When the police chief
decided that the children of Jorge Batlle, grandnephew of the
great Batlle, should be protected, he sent around two policemen
armed with .38 Colt revolvers. Batlle spoke with the men and learned
that they had never fired their guns. Policemen had to pay for
their own ammunition, and these two could not afford the cost.
Batlle bought each of them six bullets.
Mitrione also had to deal with another Uruguayan custom. Confronting
a criminal, the policeman was trained to fire in the air. He was
justified in returning gunfire but never in initiating it. That
restriction had to be removed.
With Mitrione in charge, Montevideo, like Belo Horizonte and
Rio de Janeiro, experienced a marked increase in U. S. equipment,
especially tear gas, gas masks, and police batons for crowd control.
More important, however, was the change in attitude.
When a police commissioner named Juan Maria Lucas had studied
at the IPA, Mitrione had been one of his teachers. Upon hearing
of Mitrione's appointment to Montevideo, he called together his
assistants, including Benitez, and told them, "Now we have
someone who will support us in our activities."
As it had in Brazil, Mitrione's assignment also led to an
increase in the number of Uruguayans sent to the United States
for training. But these days all students did not spend their
time entirely at the IPA or the CIA's IPSS in Washington. In their
fifth week, some were sent to Los Fresnos, Texas, where they were
taught to build bombs.
The instruction at Los Fresnos became particularly embarrassing
to the Office of Public Safety later on, when the press learned
that the CIA had been running those courses. OPS said that it
had asked the U. S. Army to give the training but the Pentagon
had refused. "Maybe they didn't have room for it at any of
their bases" was one OPS official's best explanation.
The obvious answer was more accurate. Intelligence agents
at the Pentagon had picked up traces of what the CIA was doing,
and they wanted to keep the army uninvolved. The instructors at
the Texas school, however, were Green Berets.
Except for one detail, OPS could have had an unassailable
explanation for sending students to Los Fresnos. By now the world
had entered upon a time of bombs and bomb threats. Public opinion
might have readily accepted the argument that any nation's policemen
needed training in the defusing and demolition of bombs. The problem
for OPS was that the CIA's course at Los Fresnos did not teach
men how to destroy bombs, only how to build them.
The instruction was called T.A.I.; in English, Investigation
of Terrorist Activities. The students were required to sign oaths
of secrecy, and to live at the camp, under permanent guard, in
tents on the isolated Texas plain. Their course began with a review
of various explosives, including C-3 and C-4 plastic bombs, and
a scientific analysis of TNT. The students were instructed in
fuses-how to light them, how to time them. To overcome their fears,
they were made to put dynamite under their shirts and walk toward
the camp with the detonator set.
Next the students had to race the clock, setting a charge
against a gas tank or a telephone pole in a specified number of
minutes. They learned to catapult bombs. Practicing on the camp
fence, they were shown how to cut through steel. In the clear
Texas air, they blew up jeeps carrying cans of gasoline.
The students were called guerrillas, and they were told, This
is what guerrillas do. Given that instruction, it was not surprising
that Byron Engle later denied that IPA students had been shown
The Battle of Algiers, with its scenes of policemen excusing themselves
from a dinner party to go off to bomb a rebel's house.
Then grenades: ten or so for each student to lob at gasoline
cans or old cars. Next: the Clammier anti-personnel mines, a staple
of the Vietnam war. Filled with long nails, one mine could wound
a dozen men at five hundred yards. Finally, the thirty students
of the course, all from Central and South America, were given
a major assignment: blow up a convoy of trucks; hit a gas depot
surrounded by booby traps; interrupt enemy communications by slipping
past sentinels and knocking over telephone poles. The director
of the IPA and a cadre of Green Berets sometimes oversaw these
At the end of the course, one student who asked his hosts
why the training had been given was told: "The United States
thinks that the moment will come when in each of the friendly
countries, they could use a student of confidence-who has become
a specialist in explosives; that is why the different governments
have chosen their favorite persons."
Mitrione sent at least seven men to take the CIA's course
in Los Fresnos. Among them was Inspector Lucas, who had hailed
Mitrione's arrival in Montevideo. Another was Subcommissioner
Benitez, who hated the Tupamaros from the bottom of his heart
and at the top of his lungs.
During this period, the CIA stations of Latin America's Southern
Cone entered into a period of even greater cooperation. The Western
Hemisphere Division had always been an active liaison office.
In 1964, when the CIA's Office of Finance in Washington could
not secure enough Chilean escudos for its election campaign against
Salvador Allende, it set up regional purchasing offices in Buenos
Aires, Rio, Lima, and Montevideo.
Helping out in that emergency, Philip Agee had contacted the
assistant manager of the Montevideo branch of the First National
City Bank of New York, who was also a CIA agent, and he sent men
to Santiago to buy $100,000 in escudos. Those bills were then
sent back into Chile via the U. S. embassy's diplomatic pouch.
In the late 1960s, that CIA network began handling matters
more sensitive than illegal money. The agency was putting Brazilian,
Argentinian, and Uruguayan military and police officers in touch
with each other for training in wire tapping and other intelligence
procedures, and for supplies of explosives and untraceable guns.
Those contacts also led to the surveillance, the harassment, and
finally the assassination of political exiles. Between the time
Allende was elected president of Chile and his overthrow in 1973,
the CIA arranged similar meetings between the Brazilian right
wing and Chilean army and police officials opposed to Allende.
Members of Brazil's Death Squads were introduced to the police
in Montevideo and Buenos Aires. After he shot Carlos Marighela
in November 1969, Sergio Fleury of Sao Paulo became celebrated
among Uruguayan police. He met with groups of them, on at least
two occasions through CIA contacts.
One Uruguayan police official, proudly nationalistic, resented
the way in which U. S. intelligence operators seemed to be melding
the intelligence services of the Southern Cone into one interlocking
apparatus. He was convinced that given Uruguay's small size and
its position between Argentina and Brazil, this surrendering of
autonomy would one day prove harmful to his country. If this work
was so valuable in stopping communism, he wondered, why did the
CIA officers take such care that their role be secret? For example,
a high-ranking official from Argentina's Ministry of Justice arrived
in Montevideo to discuss ways of monitoring the two countries'
political exiles. A CIA man had arranged that particular meeting,
then found an excuse for not attending it.
The Uruguayan, who understood the concept of "deniability,"
wondered why a U. S. intelligence officer should feel his country's
reputation was more valuable than Uruguay's. Another point gnawed
at him as well. The turning over of Uruguayan intelligence to
the CIA was treason. Despite the motive, despite its expressed
goal of allowing the CIA to help protect Uruguay against subversion,
it was still treason.
But the official, until he retired, never spoke out. When
he did, many years later, it was nervously and after exacting
repeated promises of anonymity. Had he complained earlier, he
could never have been sure whether a colleague agreed with him
or pretended to agree and immediately picked up the phone to call
his CIA contact.
... Mitrione brought a new spirit of dedication and expertise
to police work. In the land of manana, he never postponed today's
work to tomorrow.
That much had been true of Mitrione ten years ago, but he
was different in 1969, heavier, tougher than he had been
in Belo Horizonte, very knowing about the ways of U. S. intelligence
overseas, and totally committed to the policeman, his miseries,
his poor pay, his war on subversives.
Over the years, Mitrione had raised his sights. Measuring
himself against the average police adviser had given him considerable
confidence, and in Brazil he had learned to cooperate with those
CIA officials who he felt were the real leaders in the fight against
communism. He could believe that in Rio he had earned their respect,
as in Montevideo Adolph Saenz had not.
Was it far-fetched to speculate that when J. Edgar Hoover
finally retired from the FBI, his successor might be a former
Midwestern police chief with international experience? Mitrione's
loyal family saw nothing impossible about that vision. Naturally,
any such extraordinary promotion would depend on Mitrione's success
in quelling the Tupamaros. He was now forty-nine. This assignment
could be the best, the last, chance of his life.
Mitrione had been chief police adviser only nine months when
a respected Uruguayan weekly ran an issue with one word on the
cover: Torturada. The magazine, Marcha, was reporting the results
of an investigation by liberal members of the Uruguayan Senate
who had found that the police were systematically torturing suspected
Tupamaros. The methods would not have surprised a Brazilian prisoner-
electric needles under the fingernails; electric shocks along
the body, particularly on the captive's sexual organs.
Mitrione filed a report of the Senate's findings to the Office
of Public Safety in Washington without explanation or elaboration.
But in the EVALUATION section, he wrote: "One major problem
seems to be that the general public considers the fight one between
the police and the extremists, and are not too concerned about
it. Until they realize that the activities of the extremists threaten
their pursuit of social, political, and economic betterment and
assist the police by providing information and stop playing ostrich,
the situation will not improve in the foreseeable future."
Under RECOMMENDATIONS, Mitrione wrote: 'None.
One day a story about Mitrione's toughness passed through
the ranks at the jefatura, and Benitez noted it. Mitrione had
watched a trade-union official, the head of the bank workers,
come to the jefatura during a strike and observed the man in his
dealings with the police clerks. Then Mitrione offered his ideas
on how to break a man like that.
He had always emphasized finding out as much as possible about
a prisoner before the interrogation began. Learn the suspect's
breaking point and reach it quickly, he told the interrogating
officers. Like them, he was not a brute. He wanted the questioning
over as soon as possible.
In the case of the labor leader, Mitrione said: Undress him
completely and force him to stand facing the wall. Then have one
of the youngest policemen goose him. Afterward, put him into a
cell and hold him for three days with nothing to drink. On the
third day, pass through to him a pot of water mixed with urine.
In Richmond, Indiana, it was hardly credible that Dan Mitrione
would advocate that kind of behavior, particularly with its sexual
overtones. But Mitrione had been out of the United States for
most of ten years, and the police forces of Latin America were
filled with youngsters barely out of their teens. Sexual joking
was endemic, along with what sergeants in the U. S. Army called
grab-assing. Standing guard duty at the jefatura, a young Montevideo
policeman could expect his colleagues to make false passes at
his genitals, to tease him about being attracted to men, to pat
his buttocks mockingly. It went on all the time. So when Mitrione
urged a method for breaking the control of an arrogant suspect,
he was only talking to his students in the terms they knew best.
For all his curiosity about Mitrione, Benitez never saw him
torture a prisoner. He knew, though, that Mitrione directed certain
interrogations; and as the equipment for torture became more sophisticated,
he gave credit for the change to the chief U. S. police adviser.
According to the notes Benitez was keeping, when Mitrione
arrived in Montevideo, the police were torturing prisoners with
a rudimentary electric needle that had come from Argentina. Mitrione
arranged for the police to get newer electric needles of varying
thickness. Some needles were so thin they could be slipped between
the teeth. Benitez understood that this equipment came to Montevideo
inside the U. S. embassy's diplomatic pouch. 4=
Philip Agee could have informed Benitez that the CIA routinely
sent its equipment through the pouch. Even a lie detector, large
as a suitcase, came to a CIA station trussed up and sacrosanct
from Uruguayan inspection within the pouch. Audio and bugging
equipment came the same way.
The Technical Services Division made ingenious use of the
abundant technological skills in the United States, giving support
to every agency division and supplying experts in listening devices,
lock-picking, and photography. It also supplied containers with
hidden compartments, methods for secretly opening and closing
letters, tools for invisible writing. It provided disguises, as
the world found out when a former CIA officer named Howard Hunt
wore a red wig supplied by the agency to call on an ailing female
Under the direction of psychologist James Keehner, TSD had
devised personality tests with geometric designs to merge with
other data and form psychological profiles. The CIA maintained
30,000 of those dossiers. (The one on Fidel Castro noted that
he kept his pants on while having sex.) The tests could establish
a good deal more about a person: whether or not he was moral;
whether he would be more loyal to a person than to a cause; what
sort of torture would be the most effective against him. TSD also
tested hallucinogenic drugs; the news of those experiments, and
the death that resulted from them, was revealed only after two
decades of secrecy.
Keehner observed that most CIA employees were the type of
people who could compartmentalize their work in their minds. "They
can do horrible things all day," he told a reporter, but
only after he had left TSD, "and then go home and forget
In the Montevideo jefatura, it was a badly kept secret that
TSD maintained a support office in Panama, which supplied emergency
riot guns and tear gas to Latin American armies and police forces.
Under Pacheco, Montevideo's Metropolitan Guard was shooting so
much gas that its leaders were constantly badgering their U. S.
contacts for more from the Panama depot. The weaponry was secretly
stowed aboard the military aircraft that flew to Montevideo, flights
that often also carried groceries-eggs and bread-for U. S. officials
who refused to eat the local products.
It was less well known that the Technical Services Division
operated another office in Buenos Aires. Only a few Uruguayan
police officers learned that the improved torture equipment, the
wires and the generators, as well as such explosives as Bardesio's
gelignite, passed through that TSD office in Argentina.
When it came to the interrogation of Tupamaros, Mitrione conveyed
his instructions through a few such high-ranking Uruguayans as
Lucas. But if Benitez never saw Mitrione actually inside the torture
room at the jeiatura, others did. After Mitrione's murder, male
and female prisoners at Uruguay's jails traded stories about his
participation in the torture. Usually those were secondhand accounts
repeated to convince a doubter that the Tupamaros had been justified
in killing Mitrione.
The more reliable information about his activities came from
Uruguayan policemen themselves. One officer later recalled Mitrione
coming into the third-floor room, probably inadvertently, while
the police were administering electric shocks to a Tupamaro suspect.
Mitrione had come in only for a minute, to ask for other information.
The prisoner heard Mitrione's voice and shouted a vile insult
against all Yankees.
The officer who observed the incident said that Mitrione did
not seem angry. It was for that reason that his behavior was talked
about, as evidence of his admirable control. He simply glanced
over at the man getting the picana applied under his fingernails.
The Uruguayan police officer took that look to mean: They can
say what they like, but we have our own ways of answering them.
Another time, the Montevideo police unwittingly brought in
a young woman who, while in fact a Tupamaro sympathizer, was also
a friend of Alejandro Otero's. In the course of the interrogation,
she was tortured severely. Upon her release, she contacted Otero
and told him that Mitrione had watched and assisted in her torture.
For Otero, that was the breaking point. For four years, he had
known of intermittent torture; but with Mitrione's arrival, it
had intensified. Otero rejected torture on pragmatic grounds:
it only radicalized both the police and the Tupamaros. Some of
the police supported that reasoning; others, the chief of police
among them, sided with the norte-amencano.
After all, Otero's methods had not worked. Once, as he was
standing beside Secretary of State Dean Rusk on a ceremonial occasion
in Montevideo, his squad had allowed a young man to dash up to
Rusk and spit in his face. The Tupamaros had been spitting in
the face of Uruguay's police long enough.
All the same, Otero, who was vain, who was troublesome, who
could be lax and indolent, was not a torturer. Philip Agee had
never heard of him torturing a prisoner, nor had anyone else.
He was no hero, and sometimes he had turned his back while other
policemen beat a prisoner. But torture seemed to offend Otero,
and he was doubly affronted when he went to Mitrione to complain
about the abuse of this woman, his amiga.
Mitrione heard him out impassively. He had the weight of his
own government, and Otero's, on his side. Soon after their meeting,
Otero-in his words-was put on ice.
Only a few months later, Otero gambled his career on one reckless
attempt at vindication. He told a man, a reporter, about the torture
of his amiga, and that indiscretion began an unraveling that would
shut down the entire U. S. police advisory program.
For the last six years, Uruguayan liberals, even those with no
admiration for the Tupamaros, had apprehensively watched the developments
in Brazil. Arriving in Montevideo, their Brazilian friends would
step from the plane and breathe deeply. "It's wonderful,"
they would say, "to be in a democracy again." But with
the Tupamaros as his excuse, President Pacheco had been using
the police and the army to tighten his control over Uruguay, until
these days the air in Montevideo was not so free. Moreover, looming
above the Uruguayans was the constant threat of Brazil's powerful
military apparatus. Already Brazilian agents disguised as shepherds
and farmers had crossed the northern border on scouting raids.
The Uruguayans knew that if one morning Brazil were to invade
them, their country could be subdued before lunch.
Yet that same harsh Brazilian government had shown on four
separate occasions that it was willing to trade political prisoners
to save a diplomat's life. If Pacheco balked at this trade, surely
Brazil could bring enough force to change his mind.
The Tupamaros also expected that when Mitrione's activities
with the police were exposed, even apolitical Uruguayans would
concede that he was as natural a target as Moran Charquero or
Inspector Juan Maria Lucas, who had been badly wounded by a Tupamaro
After the exchange of prisoners, Mitrione would be sent back
to the United States in disgrace, and U. S. assistance to Uruguay's
police would be at an end.
The case of Gordon Jones was different. A young man of considerable
self-confidence, he had stirred himself out of the embassy's closed
society to meet with a range of Uruguayans. Given Montevideo's
temper at the time, many of his acquaintances were either Tupamaros
or their friends, who expected that Jones, so knowledgeable and
opinionated, would have a great deal to tell them during his days
of captivity. Also, Jones had just become the father of twins.
The Tupamaro cell, which did not foresee a bloody ending any more
than Elbrick's abductors had, thought that the large families
of two of their victims, and this new family of Jones, would be
another reason for the Uruguayan government to yield to their
Left to himself, Jorge Pacheco Areco probably would not have
agreed to release the 150 prisoners the Tupamaros were demanding.
Even his political backers did not claim that he was a compassionate
man. Consequently, he announced that his government regarded the
Tupamaro prisoners as common thieves and killers. Constitutionally,
he said, he could not release them. However, better lawyers than
Pacheco pointed out that since the president had the power of
pardon, the 1 SO prisoners could be on the next flight to Algiers.
But the decision was not entirely Pacheco's. At the time that
Elbrick was kidnapped, Richard Nixon's administration was less
than a year old, and it had not formulated a policy for dealing
with this new guerrilla tactic. In urging the prisoner exchange
for the ambassador's release, the U. S. embassy in Rio had acted
largely on its own. Its pressures were taken as representing Washington's
policy when Washington had no policy.
Now the seizing of Dan A. Mitrione set off a great deal of
discussion at the State Department about establishing one standard
line for these cases. At first, Secretary Rogers and his chief
aides considered this criterion: If the host country had carried
out normal responsibilities for protection, then Washington would
discourage the payment of any ransom.
But that still left the U. S. government judging each kidnapping
separately. What Washington needed was an iron-clad rule, especially
since individual victims were likely to be well known to the top
echelon at State-or, rather, the ambassadors and the CIA station
chiefs would be known. As Alexis Johnson said afterward, there
would never have been occasion for him to meet Dan Mitrione.
The dilemma was resolved when word came down from the White
House that President Nixon adamantly opposed any trade or deal
with the rebels of any nation.
The United States now had a policy. Held beneath the earth
in a basement prison in Montevideo, Dan Mitrione did not know
that he would be the first sacrifice to Richard I Nixon's show