Sunday, August 17, 2008

The Most Inexcusable Indemnity Request. Ever.

This week, 175 former military members filed a case in Brazil's Supreme Court asking for 500,000 reais (roughly $300,000) each for "moral, physical, and psychological damages suffered." They claim they suffered these damages over 30 years ago, while fighting in the guerrilla war in Araguaia. In that struggle, fought between 1971 and 1974 (as Brazil's dictatorship entered its most repressive phase of its 21 years of rule), members of Brazil's Maoist Partido Comunista do Brasil (PCdoB) tried to launch a revolution against the military dictatorship in the Araguaia river basin in northern Brazil. After early attempts to quietly quash the revolt, the military dictatorship in the 1970s began torturing the individuals it captured. While some made it out alive in the early phases, the dictatorship quickly turned to torturing the revolutionaries for information on their colleagues and then murdering or "disappearing" the prisoners. While the battle only claimed 7 "combat deaths" among the PC do B and 18 soldier deaths, official reports put the number of disappeared revolutionaries in Araguaia at 60. Even so, the true number, as usual, is probably much higher, and the military has refused to open the archives dealing with Araguaia, leaving much about the battle unclear. Indeed, nobody outside of the military even knows what the military did with the bodies of the victims, leaving the victims' families with an ongoing sense of uncertainty and lack of closure over the deaths of their loved ones. Yet, in what can only be characterized as an absolutely filthy, vulgar, and completely unprincipled money grab, the members of the military who participated in the torture, murder, disappearing, and "cleansing" (the military's term for hiding and/or destroying the bodies in the 1970s) are the ones who are suffering and need financial assistance to compensate for their suffering. Please.

I suspect that at least some of these former soldiers who are now filing for indemnities were generally low-level grunts forced to complete the orders of the higher-ups. Still, this is one of the most ridiculous and disgusting things I've heard of in a long time. But that doesn't excuse anything in terms of their request. First, the fact that they've waited 33 years to file this request is absurd, and I don't really buy their justification that the events of Araguaia still cause "psychological distress" now. If it were the case, why not try to file years ago? If you've been going through 33 years of distress, why wait until 2008? This would be like one of the people at Abu Ghraib suing the U.S. government for money, citing damage he/she suffered torturing Iraqis "under orders." It's bad enough that the Brazilian ex-militaries escaped any possibility of prosecution (see Item 57 here); asking for reparations? That's just obscene, despicable, unforgiveable, unconsciable, and abusive, both towards the government and the families.

Mercifully, while the government (under the dictatorship itself and afterwards) may have guaranteed that the military criminals could never be punished, it also guaranteed they could never be rewarded indemnities, as the AGU (the government's legal apparatus, not entirely unlike the solicitor general) "does not recognize the rights of ex-militaries to ask for indemnity," and I doubt any of these soulless individuals will win anything. Still, the fact that they could even ask for a financial reward 33 years after the fact, even while their victims' families still suffer in not knowing the fate of their loved ones, is as offensive a display of chutzpah as I've ever heard of in my life.