The Flight: Confessions of an Argentine Dirty Warrior

Overview

Retired Navy Officer Francisco Scilingo is the first man ever to break the Argentine military's pact of silence. Incensed by what he perceived as unjust treatment of former Argentine military officials, Scilingo stunned his compatriots and the world by openly confessing his participation in the hideous practice of pushing live political dissidents out of airplanes over the South Atlantic during Argentina's dirty war. The Flight makes available to English-language readers for the first time the complete text of ...
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Overview

Retired Navy Officer Francisco Scilingo is the first man ever to break the Argentine military's pact of silence. Incensed by what he perceived as unjust treatment of former Argentine military officials, Scilingo stunned his compatriots and the world by openly confessing his participation in the hideous practice of pushing live political dissidents out of airplanes over the South Atlantic during Argentina's dirty war. The Flight makes available to English-language readers for the first time the complete text of Scilingo's confession, offered as interviews with Argentina's best-known investigative journalist, Horacio Verbitsky. In these interviews, Scilingo confirms what was rumored for years, but always denied by the Argentine military. He recounts his inside knowledge of and participation in the monstrous campaign of systematic torture and death waged by the military from 1976 to 1983; he details the military's practice of rotating personnel so that everyone, including ranking officers, would be complicit; and he talks about the Church's awareness and seeming endorsement of many atrocities. Scilingo's candid admissions offer unique insights into the psychology of guilt and present a riveting study of human behavior at its worst.

"Best-selling account of retired naval officer Francisco Scilingo regarding torture and murder of political prisoners during the Argentine military dictatorship. Excellent and gripping translation includes a new epilogue; afterword places these human rights violations in a worldwide context. Useful identifying list of historical figures and persons mentioned in the text"--Handbook of Latin American Studies, v. 58.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A bestseller in Argentina, this electrifying document is the businesslike confessional of retired Lieutenant Commander Adolfo Scilingo, who admits to participating in the Argentine military dictatorship's campaign of torture and murder between 1976 and 1983. In extensive interviews, Scilingo tells Argentine journalist Verbitsky how he took part in "aerial transports"throwing heavily sedated, naked political prisoners out of airplanes into the Atlantic Ocean. Under Verbitsky's relentless cross-examination, Scilingo also admits that he joined in a kidnapping and observed a prisoner being tortured. Aerial executions of the regime's opponents, he charges, were approved by Church authorities, and a chaplain comforted the officers after their missions. In the introduction, Mendez, general counsel for Human Rights Watch, notes that hundreds of known torturers have avoided prosecution thanks to the Argentine military's clout, and more than 9000 families still do not know the fate of loved ones. Translation rights: Planeta Argentina, Buenos Aires. (Aug.)
Library Journal
Verbitsky, a leading Argentine journalist, interviews former naval officer Francisco Scilingo, who became the first military participant to confess to pushing political prisoners out of airplanes over the South Atlantic during Argentina's "dirty war." His confession caused a sensation in Argentina and revived intense discussion of the horrible human rights abuses the military committed from 1976 through 1983. Although Jacobo Timerman's autobiographical account (Prisoner Without a Name, Cell Without a Number, LJ 5/15/81) provides a much clearer picture of violence and the victims' suffering, Verbitsky's interviews reveal rich details about military procedures and complicity never before made available. Despite a helpful introduction, the work will be difficult for general readers to understand without some knowledge of Argentine history and politics. For academic and larger public libraries.Roderic A. Camp, Latin American Ctr., Tulane Univ., New Orleans
Thomas Gaughan
Even in the age of CNN and the Internet, many readers are likely to be ignorant of the horrifying facts contained in this book. Between 1930 and 1980, Argentina experienced no fewer than one military coup per decade. The 1970s and 1980s featured systematic torture and murder of political dissidents in what the Argentine military establishment called the "dirty war." "The Flight" takes its name from the practice of throwing kidnapped, tortured, but still living victims into the sea from military airplanes to dispose of their bodies. Today, after some 20 years of fitful government attempts to uncover what happened, some 9,000 victims are still simply "disappeared." Regrettably, journalist Verbitsky's account, which is based on a series of interviews with the first military officer to confess to his part in the dirty war, is diminished because it is filled with legalistic, semantic hairsplitting about a staggering record of organized crimes against humanity. Still, this catalog of horrors belongs in public libraries, which have always supplied one good answer to the problem of ignorance.
Quistgaard
Horacio Verbitsky, Argentina's famously unflappable investigative journalist, doesn't flinch as he pulls the bloody skeletons from his country's closet in The Flight, his account of the atrocities committed during the "Dirty War" of the 1970s and early '80s. But he relates the story with such indignation and vigor that you may have a hard time fighting the urge to flinch yourself. Be strong, as this is important and engrossing political history.

Verbitisky combines his own reporting with the confessions of a retired Argentine navy officer, Adolfo Scilingo. The result is an account of how 10,000 to 30,000 people were "disappeared" (read: kidnapped, tortured, murdered) by the Argentine armed forces, including chilling reports about torture by cattle prod, by toe-nail pulling, by the introduction of live mice into a woman's vagina.

Scilingo's story alone is compelling. Guilt overtook the officer 18 years after he obeyed orders to throw planeloads of prisoners, alive but drugged unconscious, to their death in the Atlantic Ocean. Plagued by nightmares that began when he almost fell out along with one of his victims, Scilingo grew outraged when, years later, the navy refused to admit that these actions had been ordered during the undeclared "war against subversives." Steadied by sedatives and whiskey, Scilingo admitted his fears to Verbitsky: "If you carry out orders and enough time goes by that they are no longer secret for operative reasons and they are still being hidden or even directly lied about ... this is lying in a treacherous way. And, in the context of that lie, I say we were transformed into criminals."

These taped confessions are the record of one man's impossible struggle to reconcile having unquestioningly followed orders to kill, with the realization (far too late) that those giving the orders were heinous murderers, not upright soldiers. The story of "the flights" was one Verbitsky had heard many times before, but only from the mouths of victims. When he published Scilingo's confession in Buenos Aires in March of 1995, he opened the biggest can of worms to wriggle through the fashionable tango capital since democracy was reinstated in 1983. Scilingo's revelations led to a historic mea culpa by the chief of the army, a demand (still stuck in the country's Supreme Court) for the armed forces to provide lists of the "desaparecidos," and — perhaps most significantly — to a society's painful examination of the past.

This American edition of The Flight summarizes these post-publication developments and offers a brilliant chronology of Argentine political history since 1930. A glossary of key figures serves as a who's-who refresher and guide through the maze-like text. As a primer to the Dirty War, The Flight is a volume of bloodcurdling horror that packs an astonishing moral punch. And it profoundly illustrates Verbitsky's statement that "often in human history, great secrets are revealed by a solitary conscience." --Salon

Kirkus Reviews
A chilling as-told-to memoir by a man whose job it once was to murder political dissidents in the name of military dictatorship.

A great code of silence once surrounded Argentina's so-called dirty war of the late 1970s and early 1980s, during which several thousand political opponents were "disappeared." Whether willingly or out of fear, journalists did not report the daily discoveries of mangled bodies, and until recently the Argentine government maintained that it had never officially endorsed the campaign of terror. Francisco Scilingo breaks that silence: A naval officer who routinely kidnapped suspected dissidents and threw them from planes and helicopters into the South Atlantic, he had "never been able to overcome the shock that the execution [of military orders] caused me." What impresses is not so much that Scilingo chose to speak as his reasons for doing so: As a military man, he concludes that the military's involvement in terrorism was simply "not very ethical." Scilingo could readily claim that he was merely following orders, but he does not; he squarely accepts responsibility for his crimes. His confession, delivered first on television, then in newspaper interviews, and now in this book with his amanuensis, Argentine journalist Verbitsky, has caused a great stir in Argentina. Before Scilingo went public, President Carlos Menem pardoned all military personnel involved in the dirty war, saying, "Of the two parties involved in it, one was fighting for the rule of law and the others were constantly violating that law." Afterward, Menem ordered the military to undergo "self-criticism," with the navy's chief admiral reporting that the methods Scilingo and his fellow warriors used "were unacceptable even in the cruel context of war." Now, however, the generals and admirals are retracting their confessions, and Scilingo has been jailed for making fraudulent claims.

The dirty war thus goes on, despite this valuable book.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781565840096
  • Publisher: New Press, The
  • Publication date: 8/28/1996
  • Pages: 207
  • Product dimensions: 6.43 (w) x 9.51 (h) x 0.91 (d)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 3, 2001

    The Flight: Confessions of a Dirty Warrior--Review

    In this book, Verbitsky interviews Scilingo, a Naval officer during Argentina¿s Dirty War. Scilingo¿s chilling confession became the first in breaking the silence about the atrocities committed by the military junta, between 1976-1983. His description of the inside systematic torture, in which he participated, confirmed what the argentine citizens long knew and the military government had always denied. Scilingo dismisses responsibility and excuses his peers by claiming ¿due obedience¿ during the process¿ Verbitsky also provides, within this writing, a useful chronology of the historical events preceding the 1976 coup through 1995, as well as an alphabetical list of key figure biographies in the ¿cast of characters¿ of the war. A very good read on the subject of the argentine dictatorship.

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