It sounded like a straight-forward political scandal. An Argentine judge named María José Sarmiento blocked Kirchner’s controversial attempt to use Central Bank reserves to pay its foreign debt. Yesterday, the government tried to arrest her father. An outrageous example of the executive harassing the judiciary, right?
Except the judge’s father is Luis Sarmiento, a retired army colonel, a.k.a. “a magician with the picana.” What’s a picana?
The picana is a wand or prod that delivers a high voltage but low current electric shock to a torture victim. It has a bronze tip and an insulated handle, and is connected by wire to a control box with a rheostat to raise or reduce the voltage. Power is supplied by a car battery or by a transformer connected to a mains wall socket.
The victim is undressed and then tied to a chair or table or hung upside down by the ankles. Often water is thrown over the victim to reduce the electrical resistance of the skin and to increase the effect of the shocks. Two people operate the picana. One adjusts the rheostat control to increase or decrease the voltage. The other holds the picana and applies its tip to sensitive places on the victim’s naked body, such as the head, mouth, genitals, breasts and nipples.
Sarmiento is accused of torturing 23-year-old Angel Enrique Brandazza to death in 1972 in a case that was well known and well publicized, but that fell out of sight once the torturing and extrajudicial killing of the Dirty War started in earnest. He and his family have many close ties to some of the worst figures from the Dirty War, and Sarmiento also spent time working for the Argentine intelligence service in Apartheid South Africa, according to this great profile published by Página/12.
He’s a real upstanding citizen.
He was finally charged a few days ago, and law enforcement personnel tried to arrest him, but they gave up when they found the 85-year-old man in a wheel chair and poor health. The arrest warrant has now been dropped. His daughter is outraged at the attempted arrest and calls it political persecution.
Maybe it is, but the bigger outrage is that this evil old man won’t be dying alone in a concrete cell.
(Note: I found the image above on a handful of different blogs, but couldn’t figure out the name of the artist. Any ideas?)