Session 23 of the trial, Monday, February 11, 2007
The President of the Court opened the session and ordered that the witness Pablo Andrés Atúncar Cama enter the court. Then Judge San Martin informs the court that the witness has been summoned by the state prosecutor; this is a case of an operational intelligence agent, Class 2 Technician of the Peruvian Army, previously sentenced to 15 years in prison for his involvement in the Barrios Altos case, which he is currently serving. Likewise, years ago he agreed voluntary collaborate which facilitated his early sentencing in this case. On taking his place in the trial, he was urged by the President of the Court to say only the truth.
The state prosecutor begins questioning. The witness tells the court that he entered his obligatory military service in 1979 at the age of eighteen. On finishing that, he stayed in the army and entered the intelligence school. In 1983 he entered the Army Intelligence Service (SIE). From that point on he was involved in numerous operations, collecting political information in the field, using a series of procedures. He never missed a meeting, and he followed certain persons. In 1990 he went to work in an area of specialization where plans were prepared so that other agents and units could then carry out the operations. The principle is that not a single intelligence operation is without a predetermined plan. Likewise, the agent in charge of the operation is not the maker of the plan of action, and that the plan of action results from a separate operation. For that task, there is an organization specializing in the creation of plans, which is where Atúncar worked until he was called to join the new military detachment, “Colina.” He was in military intelligence planning for two years. He says that the plans where approved in the SIE then submitted to the DINTE (National Intelligence Directorate).
In response to a question by the prosecutor, the witness presents a conceptual framework of how the intelligence system works as seen from below, from the perspective of an agent. The orders come from the detachment that an agent belongs to, accompanied by a specific plan prepared by the respective planning unit. Once the mission completed, the agent reports through proper channels. This is a dropbox. The head of the detachment gives a general report to the SIE, which is forwarded to the Intelligence Directorate, DINTE, to be processed. It should be known that the Army General Command has daily meetings with the head of the DINTE. All agents know that their work is not an individual effort, but rather is part of an interlocked machine managed daily by those in high command. The witness clarifies that this is why the creation of an intelligence detachment is attributed to the General Command of the Peruvian Army.
On September 15, 1991, he was transferred to join the newly formed detachment Colina, by order of the high command, who at that time was General Nicolás Hermoza, later Commander General of the Peruvian Army, and processed for that transfer. His new unit was located in the Intelligence School, in a large warehouse that had been a storage depot for the National Intelligence Service (SIN). His first interview was with then Captain Santiago Martin Rivas, who explained to him that he had been called on to destroy the Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso, SL). They established a system of three daily contacts and decided Atúncar would attend a meeting that Martin would arrange. In a few days, he found himself at a meeting with 25 other agents, all members of the new unit. The meeting was directed by Martin, who was accompanied by another captain, Pichilingue. At this meeting it was made clear that killing was part of this unit’s mission. This intention was made clear by Martin who clearly explained that the mission of the group was to detect, capture, and eliminate terrorist leaders. It was also made clear that this was a special unit of the army, of “elites” Martin called them. The agents asked about their security, and he answered that each one of us would have available US$100,000 for travel out of the country if needed, that they would have to stop using the military hospitals to avoid suspicion, but that they would a first class private health insurance policy for $10,000. Lastly, they were assured that over and above their ordinary wages, they would receive the extra pay of $150.00 per week. In practice, almost all these promises were revealed to be false over time. They only received the extra pay, but in Peruvian soles, not dollars.
All agents present accepted the mission that was entrusted to them by the army high commands. To celebrate, a barbeque was given. Both Lieutenant Colonel Rodríguez Zalbabeascoa, commander of the division, and Martin, head of operations, were present. In a second meeting, the administrative head, Captain Pichilingue, informed us that it was necessary to create a “cover business,” which would be funded with the US$100,000 that each of us had as security money. The day following this general meeting, another meeting was organized at the cemetery, taking flowers for fellow officials who had fallen in the fight against Shining Path. There, Martin gave a speech announcing that the name of this unit would be Colina.
In October 1991, we were moved to La Tiza beach, which had originally functioned as relaxation center for sub-officials. Colina took control of the whole area, using all of it for operations training. They used two principal types of weapons: an HK rifle with a silencer, called “the mute,” for its characteristic of making almost no noise. The second weapon, of greater power, was called FAL G3; obviously they also had automatic pistols, grenades, and explosives available to them. Captain Martin came from the military engineers branch, which trains its people in the use and handling of explosives. The quantity of arms was very high and constitutes additional proof, as Atúncar reasons, of the official nature of the division Colina. The arms came from the SIE and he clarifies that on each operation they also carried shovels and hydrated lime, to bury bodies and to erase the fingerprints of the bodies. The arms were kept in the Military Villa in Chorrillos, in the house of the agent Carvajal, also a member of Colina. This weapons deposit was known as “the hardware store.”
At La Tiza, they practiced the Barrios Altos invasion and killings for weeks. The original plan included dynamiting the location, but that part was later abandoned. When it came time for the murders, it was planned that agent Carvajal would turn up the volume of the music so that the almost silent drumming of “the mutes” would not be heard.
On the day of the events, Atúncar was assigned to the mission. They left from La Tiza beach at around four o’clock in the afternoon, headed for the house on Huanta street and he entered the barbecue fundraiser before the order to annihilate came. He emphasizes the presence of the undercover intelligence agent whose cover name was “Abadía” was present at the fundraiser, and who had infiltrated SL. Martin was the only one who knew Abadía. On entering, he discovered that there were two parallel parties taking place in the building: one of the second floor, and another in the patio of the first floor. Not being sure which was the objective, Atúncar left to find Martin to ask that Abadía precisely inform them of the object party. It was established that the objective was the party on the first floor. Then the vans arrived with the operations equipment. They then approached and at the door a group of curious people gathered, attracted by their military appearance and the arms we were carrying. To distract them, Atúncar feigned a fight with another of the agents and the curious disperse. The physical elimination of those present at the fundraiser lasted less than five minutes. They left, putting flashing lights on the vans as rapidly as they had arrived. He confirms that less than a hundred meters away was a police station in the Plaza Italia, which was the Headquarters of Police Intelligence.
Those in charge of security and containment went to a “Safe House,” in the plaza in Barranco, where the chief of the division — commander Rodríguez Zalbabeascoa — also went. Meanwhile the annihilation group returned directly to La Tiza. Later, the rest of the group went to the same beach.
Unfortunately, there was a newspaper uproar and names started to appear in the daily newspapers. All the personnel were nervous. In this context a lunch was prepared and held with Army General Commander, General Nicolás Hermoza Rios. That meeting was on the sixth floor of Army General Headquarters, known as the pentagonito, or little Pentagon. There, Hermoza gave a speech affirming that the Colina’s actions were thoroughly reviewed by the command and that they could count on the support of the “highest levels.” When Atúncar heard that phrase, he concluded that both the Ministry of Defense and the President of Peru would back them, because those were the highest levels, higher than the General Commander — no one else has a higher rank.
The Colina division completed only eight operations, all involving murders. Not one of them ended in the arresting people for interrogation. The mission was to eliminate. After announcing that point with a serene voice and blunt attitude, Atúncar becomes emotional and brokenly asks the victims’ families who are present, sitting a few rows in front of mine, to forgive him. Atúncar also asks forgiveness from his own family, which has suffered great problems due to his participation in the Colina. At this point, the victims’ families also become emotional and a mantel of tragedy and pain envelopes us.
Atúncar further informs that two planned operations were aborted. One of those was to eliminate Yehude Simon, currently the regional president of Lambayeque, the other Javier Diez Canseco, JDC, ex-congressman. At the time both were considered to be leaders of the Peruvian left, which acted within the law. In the particular case of Yehude, the operation was ready, the plan had been approved and practiced. It was under way, the commander had already left the base and was in a hotel a few meters from the location which Yehude was attending a meeting. At that moment, a telephone call stopped the operation.
The case of JDC was more complicated since his security guards were experienced. JDC’s security was group of people trained in the marines, who know about those things. The problem was that when JDC left the congress, he took different routes, never the same roads. For that reason, it was decided to kill him in the door of the congress, as soon as he stepped out walking, without giving him time for anything. During this operation a cart was to be used to interfere with his movement, obligating him to stop moving, and to shoot him through both doors. It was decided to use the FAL rifles, because of their greater, heavier, firepower. They wanted to be fully sure of this because it was thought that JDC’s car was armored. For this operation, a green light was never given, and it was discarded.
For the Cantuta operation they went in combat groups; they took arms from the “hardware store” and traveled in four vehicles to the university. They were told that this was a revenge operation for the one attempted by SL on Tarata Street in Miraflores. At this time, the university housed a unit of special army operations, which let them pass and act as if they were at home. The weapons they had were the G3 of high fire power. They wore hoods, entered the university housing and first took out the men. They filmed the entire operation, including the removals carried out by an army infiltrator in SL who identified the senderistas, or SL members, who were held. This operation was the only one to be fully filmed. Continuing, they brought out all the women students for sorting, and finally the professor, who had to be pulled from the arms of his wife. They were put in the vehicles, Atúncar transported a woman student, and taken to the place selected for their execution. That was a polygon of firing, which they finished with “the mutes.” Then, they opened the badly made pits, which in the end caused problems leading to the massacre’s discovery.
The next day, agent Sosa called on Atúncar to dig up the bodies and take them to another place. He said the first graves were too shallow and that there were wandering dogs that would eventually dig them out. That night they went out in three vehicles with about fifteen agents to work with picks, shovels, and hydrated lime. He remembers that the odor was intense and that the work was very hard. Later, there was a second transfer of the cadavers, due to accusations from the press, but he didn’t take part in the third burial operation.
Atúncar testifies that all the Colina members were initiated by killing on some occasion or other. Well, maybe not all of them, but it was the norm. This was the principal of shared responsibility. He himself was present at all eight Colina operations, all of them were bloody. He was in that division until November 11, 1992, when it the group was deactivated because of changes within the DINTE, and General Rivero Lazo left the command. Because of this, the weapons were returned to the SIE.
They were arrested in 1993, but he was not initially involved in the judicial case. After a few months he visited his companions in prison and they asked him, as a favor, to regularly collect their pay and to bring it to the jail, which he did. During that time they were waiting for the amnesty, which finally was given in 1995.
Currently, Atúncar has been in prison for five years. He was sentenced five months ago to fifteen years in jail. His military situation is very unfavorable. He is in active service but without a squadron assignment, meaning he can neither get his military pay, nor pension. He doesn’t exist. This limbo impedes his family from access to military medical services and from receiving any income. Additionally he must pay civil reparations and he has given a down-payment. He has been a useful and efficient collaborator with the Peruvian justice system and it has done nothing, however minimal, to fix his legal situation; he has written a multitude of petitions requesting release to collect his pension for his twenty-one years of service. He has not been answered. He concludes saying that he carried out orders that were given by an official in service, in a military camp. For that reason, he affirms that in his case an injustice has been carried out, asking for pardon and clemency.
After the lawyers for the victims’ families, in was the turn of César Nakazaki, Alberto Fujimori’s defense lawyer, to ask questions. His initial interest was to ask the witness to explain the line of command for the elaboration and approval of intelligence plans. After strong verbal exchange with the witness, Nakazaki manages his first direct question: “How does the witness know that Colina’s operation plans were approved by the Army Commander General? By looking at them, the only thing the military manuals confirm is that the chief of an intelligence division like Colina — in other words, Lieutenant Colonel Rodríguez Zalbabeascoa — reported to the SIE, which then reported to the DINTE. Then if it went higher, it wouldn’t be to receive orders but to inform. That is to say, by the looks of it, Colina’s orders came from the DINTE; they weren’t adopted by Hermoza, much less by Fujimori. The eliminations must have been conceived within Colina and were possibly the result of excesses in the operations. How does the witness know that Colina’s plans passed through the Army Commander General’s office? Can you verify this? Is it possible this comes from the manuals?”
The witness vacillates and is confused. Nakazaki continues recounting that in the beginning the witness had claimed that the operational plans were drawn up in the SIE planning unit and that once approved, they were “elevated” to the DINTE to be carried out. He reminds the witness that he has told how plans were developed and informed the court that he himself worked in planning. If this was the case, and the witness has stated that the operational plans were definitely approved in the DINTE, then how does it — in one jump — reach all the way to the office of the Commander General, and — in another jump, this time farther — reach all the way to office of the country’s president? Why did this happen? Can he prove it? Was he there? Because it doesn’t come from the operations manual, nor does it come from his recounting of how plans were elaborated when he worked in that intelligence unit. How does he know that the Commander General approved the plans?
The witness continues vacillating and Judge San Martin attempts to clarify the situation. San Martin proposes that it’s possible those manuals and those plans that the witness drew up in the past were for normal matters, but that possibly, given the material and the nature of Colina, those matters needed special treatment. After that hypothesis was presented, the witness hung on to it to answer Nakazaki more than once, affirming that Colina was created to kill and because of that, it was unique, so much so that the Army Commander General invited them to lunch and offered them support from the highest level for their actions when the scandals of the Barrios Altos and La Cantuta killings were in all the papers. He asks what level is a higher level than the Commander General of EP? Only the Minister of Defense and the President. Then they gave us amnesty on a declaration from the Congress signed by the President. Therefore he reasoned, that we, a unit in the Army, were assigned to the dirty work and in the end they let us fall, without acknowledging their role. He again asks for forgiveness.