“What he has to say, I have left all places untouched.” In these words, Antonio Martens’ legal counsel delivers the manuscript of a “torturer for the secret police of a now defunct dictatorship.” In the following pages, Martens reveals his complicity in the surveillance, torture, and eventual deaths of Federigo and Enrique Salinas. The setting is a South American country in the 1970s, a military junta newly in power, flexing the muscles of intimidation and fear, repressing public outcry with immediate action.
It is necessary to control the response of citizens, to limit rebellion, the Corps dedicated to prevention of atrocities through whatever means necessary. Father and son become victims of the secret police, prey to the devious methods of the authorities, caught in a carefully laid web. Awaiting execution, Martens offers an intimate view of the heart of evil: “I wish to tell a simple and sickening story.”
Three secret police are involved in the Salinas case: Diaz is the rigid boss, driven by ideology; Rodriquez, the unpredictable instrument of torture who studies the methods of the Nazi’s extermination camps: and Antonio Martens, a passive bystander performing his duties with stoicism, viewing himself as “an honest flatfoot.” Martens is an observer of the obscene, soon to meet the same ending as the Salinas men, his calm narrative unimpeded by emotion throughout the interrogation of Federigo and Enrique.
Falling into the government’s hands at a time when an example must be made, Enrique’s boredom and fascination with joining the resistance puts the young man on a collision course with fate, his diary a precious resource for Martens, who mines the boy’s idealism for his destruction. When Federigo attempts to explain his son’s actions, both are doomed.
Martens’ casual retelling of his participation in the interrogation of Enrique and Federigo shows a disdain for truth, torture the foe of reason, demanding acceptable answers to continue the process. It is not only Martens’ dispassionate voice but the man’s consumption of the Salinas’ narrative to his own ends that strikes a dissonant chord, as well as the fact that both father and son believe truth will save them in the face of dogma and repression.
The foolish Enrique disdains a life without meaning, his father desperate to guide his son in a safe direction through a dangerous maze, both falling victim to a machine that crushes all challenges, Martens as corrupt as the others and equally as evil.
Without explicit detail, the brutality, the utter insanity of the exercise is appalling, the very humanity of the love between father and son rendered superfluous as the juggernaut of expedience grinds on. This is an apt and disturbing morality tale for our times, patriotism wielded as a hammer and a goad.