“The past is never dead. It’s not even past,” William Faulkner wrote in 1951, two years after winning the Nobel Prize for literature. It’s one of his best-known lines. sk
If you have not heard of Chile’s secret torture camp ColoniaDignidad, don’t worry. Most North Americans haven’t either, along with the rest of the world.
But this true story of a South American detainment and torture colony (opened in 1961 as a “pleasant” rural Andean community and subject of a soon to be released movie) is still kept secret by the governments of Chile, Germany and the United States.
Today there remain government documents held by all three countries involved that could tell us what happened at Dignidad, years later officially renamed Villa Baviera by the Chilean government. Most critical are classified internal reports that still haven’t seen the light of day.
|British actress Emma Watson stars in Colonia
|THE SISTER OF AN AMERICAN math professor spent nearly thirty years trying to uncover why her brother, Boris Weisfeiler, disappeared while hiking near the colony in 1985; he was kidnapped and killed, she was finally told.
But today, she and others still demand complete information about her brother, while governments tightly keep their classified papers to themselves.
In my own research while writing books in the series Civil Rights Mystery Sleuth, it angered me to learn CIA and other U.S. intelligence personnel participated at the Chilean site, invited by Chile’s ruthless dictator Augusto Pinochet, who the United States helped put into power by aiding the overthrow of the country’s democratically elected president, Salvador Allende.
U.S. agents were at Dignidad early-on to conduct biological weapons and related research. The renamed colony wasn’t shut down until 2005. How long were we there? What were we doing?
We’ll never get answers to such questions until all classified documents are released about this colony once opened by a Nazi supporter, who eighteen years after WWII escaped Germany on official charges of malicious child abuse.
The 1953 “murder” of Frank Olson becomes more interesting to me when you consider this strange event in the context of Dignidad. Olson was an early figurehead in the development of biological weapons; how he died was reportedly covered up for years by the CIA and military intelligence.
But much of Olson’s research had to do with early projects involving mind altering drugs, torture and use of uninformed and illegally detained subjects, all of which went on at Dignidad and countless other Chilean torture camps (and in other countries, as well), one author states.
Only recently did partial information come out via declassified documents, as told in the book, A Terrible Mistake: The Murder of Frank Olson and the CIA’s Secret Cold War Experiments, written by H.P. Albarelli, Jr., a graduate of Antioch Law School who writes and produces documentaries on this and related topics.
THE OLSON CASE BURST UPON the public’s consciousness in the mid-1970s, along with other revelations at the time concerning the CIA and military domestic spying and medical experimentation upon unwitting victims, after a landmark expose by New York Times reporter Seymour Hersch.
The Olson family started asking questions about Frank Olson’s death (reported officially as a suicide), and so did their lawyers, government commissions and even some CIA agents, according to Albarelli who paints a grim picture about what Olson knew, and why he was killed.
While Olson died before the camp was opened, he still knew and helped develop the drugs and testing procedures used in the controversial Projects Artichoke and MKULTRA, later undoubtedly used on tortured anti-government, Jews and others detained at the colony
Drugs that were already being unethically and illegally tested in the United States and other parts of the world before Dignidad opened its gates. The Chilean camp would become just another venue for these terrifying, repulsive acts.
Unlike Olson, Weisfeiler was a victim of this Chilean torture camp. Was the internationally renowned math professor working for someone else, looking for evidence of nuclear weapons? His backpack later found near the colony’s entrance reportedly contained radiation detection equipment. Why would a backpacker “on vacation in the remote Andes” carry such supplies? This appears possible, since he had first worked for a research contract located next to Princeton University. Was he testing remote viewing equipment for this entity?
It has been written that nuclear weapons “of mass destruction” were being developed by German scientists at Dignidad, a rumor substantiated by academic historian Peter Levenda, author of Ratline: Soviet Spies Nazi Priests, and The Hitler Legacy.
But then perhaps this former Soviet Jew and Russian Refusenik, who’d left his country to work in the United States, was trying to find and help other Jewish captives escape?
LAST WEEK I FOUND INTERESTING the Central Intelligence Agency’s announcement of organizational restructuring, “ending the traditional separation between spies and analysts, while also creating a new division to handle cyber warfare.” Thousands of spies and CIA analysts are to be reassigned to new posts, marking one of the most significant changes to the agency’s core structure in its 67-year history, the public was told.
Under this new model spies and analysts should start working together, allowing the CIA to “cover the entire universe, regionally and functionally,” Director John Brennan said in a media briefing last week.
As the proud owner of an MBA, I can say that such reorganization makes good business sense, because it follows the more popular horizontal rather than top down structure, favored for the past umpteen years by American corporations. So maybe better decision-making will emerge at the CIA, once these changes take hold.
BECAUSE THE MISGUIDED, VILLAINOUS DECISION-making that occurred back when Frank Olson was killed in 1953, the decisions to give men, women and children dangerous experimental drugs without their knowledge or consent, and the decisions to participate at Colonia Dignidad (and then grant asylum to American assassin Michael Townley, who worked for both the CIA and for Chile’s secret police or DINA) were bunk.
Bunk is too nice of a word.
With all of this reshuffling of responsibilities, will the CIA’s irresponsible culture change? Will these questions ever be answered?
In the United States, Chile and Germany, various human rights groups and organizations of activists, the relatives of those who were tortured and “disappeared,” and torture survivors are pressuring the Chilean government for an end to secrecy.
One organization, Londres 38, Espacio de Memoria, released a statement last summer asserting the importance of investigating crimes committed at Colonia Dignidad.
“On the grounds of the former Colonia Dignidad, evidence of crimes still exist. We demand that the state, the government and the judiciary investigate the files that have remained hidden, reported by the media through accurate testimony,” the statement says.
It also calls for declassification of testimony related to torture in detention centers obtained by the Valech Commission — an investigation ordered by Chilean President Ricardo Lagos between 2003 and 2005 , as well as the lifting of restrictions pertaining to the Rettig Commission report in 1991, commissioned by President Patricio Aylwin, which focused on detainees who were murdered or “disappeared.”
Likely it will be years, if ever, before citizens of he United States, Chile and Germany learn what really happened at this remote colony. At least a movie starring Emma Watson is set for opening this fall, and it looks like this story could shed some light.
In its announced organizational shift, the CIA might consult the work of Faulkner who basically told us the past is the present. And if so, as this author claimed years ago regarding another torture colony — Mississippi, the Central Intelligence Agency should start its own truth and reconciliation process, something that Mississippi has refused to do thus far. They could even name this new project FAULKNER, after the southern literary AND cultural genius who got it right.
Susan Klopfer, author of The Plan