Sunday, 20 May 2012

Brazil: Medical expert promises revelations for truth commission

O Globo carries an interesting interview with retired medical examiner Harry Shibata, which Portugese speakers can read here. I've had a go at translating it (see also note):
The former director of the Medical Legal Institute (IML) in the 1970s, medical law expert Harry Shibata, says that he has revelations for the Truth Commission, which is investigating the crimes of the dictatorship. Aged 85 and living as a recluse in a two-storey house with a swimming pool in Alto de Pinheiros, Shibata denies the major accusation against him, that of falsifying reports and death certificates to cover up torture and deaths during the military regime.

The medical examiner carried out the autopsy on the journalist Vladimir Herzog, known as Vlado, who died under torture, but whose death was reported as suicide. Shibata is accused of having falsified numerous other reports. He conducted the report on Sonia Maria de Moraes Angel Jones, who, after being tortured, had her breasts pulled and was raped with a truncheon. In Shibata's version, she died in a shootout. Shibata was charged with hiding bodies by the public prosecution service following the discovery of the bones of political prisoners in the clandestine cemetery of Perus in São Paulo. In an exclusive interview with O Globo, he confirmed having carried out the report on Herzog, but denied having seen his body.

"I did not do the autopsy because the second expert does not participate, that is normal. He reads the report and talks to the person who did the examination. If he agrees, he signs. I did not say that it was suicide. The report said that he died of asphyxiation caused by hanging. Whether they hanged him or not, if it was suicide, homicide or an accident - this is not the function of the medical expert. That is for the inquest to say."

In spite of giving assurances that he had not seen Vlado's corpse, the medical examiner said that he had secrets to tell the commission and the widow of Vlado, Clarice Herzog, who lives 300 metres from his house. Asked if he would make a revelation, he answered:

"If I am asked to, yes. I don't want you to publish anything before the Truth Commission knows it. For you, it's a scoop, for them, it's a confusion. I don't know what they are really going to be looking for."

Although he denies having seen signs of torture on the political prisoners, Shibata says that it exists "everywhere in the world":

"I don't believe that there is any police force which does not torture," he says, without dismissing the method as a form of investigation. "Look, you have to think in terms of fighting rapists, murderers, evil, in a way that may be cruel, I don't know.

Shibata says that he never made a false report:

"Absolutely never. Think about it. I have to be true to myself. Spiritually, I have a strict doctrine. Jesus always preached the truth, 'Truly, truly, I say to you'," he said, adding that he was going to "correct the media": "It's all lies".

The most famous medicolegal expert of the military dictatorship says that he never saw a "dragon's chair", used for the administration of electric torture.

"What is the dragon's chair? Do you have any idea? I never saw one," he says in conclusion, after the report mentions the electric shocks. "Oh, it gives shocks? So it's a sort of electric chair? If you're saying that the dragon's chair, the electric chair... Shocks don't leave any trace."

Despite having said that he had "honestly" never found any trace of torture, the expert confirms,

"I know that there was torture, but I'm not getting into it".

Shibata denies that the IML received instructions not to describe the general state of the bodies it autopsied and ignore signs of torture.

"There was no interference. The police always asked if the police request had been received, the request for autopsy. If you have a haematoma, we describe the haematoma. Whether you fell or were beaten - that's not our job."

If it's down to Harry Shibata, the whereabouts of the disappeared from the military dictatorship will remain unknown.

"What often happens is that those who do these things do them very well and we will never know. Disappeared is disappeared. I don't know where they are. It's difficult to speculate on how the disappearance was done, isn't it? If the guy was buried under a false name, that happens a lot," he says, talking about the bones in Perus. "The problem has nothing to do with me or with the IML. Burying people is the job of the cemetery."

The expert says that he did not know the president Dilma [Rousseff] during the military regime because he does not follow politics.

"I think she's doing a good job. I voted for [Jose] Serra. I don't know Dilma, I never heard of her in the '70s. I'm not really political. When Carlos Marighella died, I did the autopsy. I didn't know who he was. He died of gunshot wounds. I only found out later when asked to rush the report, the police asked for it urgently.

Shibata explains that, on the orders of the police chief Celso Teles, he did not carry out the autopsy on the body of Sérgio Paranhos Fleury, one of the greatest symbols of the repression, who supposedly died falling off boat in Ilhabela in 1979. According to Capixaba police chief Claudio Guerra in his book "Memories of a dirty war", Fleury was killed by the military and the accident was staged:

"Teles said, look, there's no need for an autopsy. That was wrong. When the death is violent the medical examiner always has to be called. But they called an ordinary doctor. The law says that if there is no medical examiner, the report needs to be done by two doctors. I think it's a fantasy [the assassination theory], but the suspicion exists because the autopsy was not done properly."

Note on the translation: This has been done to the best of my ability and as far as I'm aware, it is correct. However I'd like to be clear that Portuguese is a relatively new language of mine and I cannot rule out the existence of errors. Comments and corrections welcome, anyone wanting to use this translation themselves takes responsibility for doing so and would be well advised to check it first.

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