The Case of the Dead Brazilian Torturer Gets Murkier
They haven't killed him yet.
Paulo Malhaes, the confessed Brazilian torturer whose death I recently reported on this site may not have been murdered after all. At least that’s what police investigating the case have been loudly proclaiming for the past week.
The former Army officer who had been an active agent of repression during Brazil’s military dictatorship in the nineteen seventies was found dead in his home on April 25th. It was immediately and widely assumed that Malhaes had been assassinated by former comrades disturbed by his recent testimony before the Brazilian Truth Commission. But the police in Nova Iguacu, a commuter city on the periphery of Rio de Janeiro, are saying that Malhaes died of a heart attack while being restrained during a routine house robbery gone wrong.
Based on what’s being reported in Brazil and via international wire services, however, the line of inquiry being pursued by the police is so rife with contradictory evidence and unanswered questions that the case is already showing all the earmarks of a cover up, if not a full blown conspiracy. At this point it’s still impossible to distinguish hearsay from fact, but the story goes something like this, beginning with a few scant details on the victim’s background:
While on active duty in an intelligence unit more than three decades ago, Paulo Malhaes was in command of what the Brazilian Army dubbed its House of Death located in a mountain town near Rio. It was where high profile militants involved in armed resistance were taken to be interrogated. Most never left alive, Malhaes has testified, and their bodies were partially dismembered, then dumped in a local river. “They paid a high price for playing cops and robbers with the Army,” Malhaes once gloated to reporters of the Brazilian daily, O Globo. During his testimony Malhaes said he did not repent his acts, and would do it all over again. The former colonel did refuse, however, to provide the names of those with whom he served, which may have not been enough to save him.
Malhaes had retired from the military sometime in the early eighties. He settled in the rural zone surrounding Nova Iguacu on a property next to a local police official, who, it has been revealed, also served under Malhaes in the House of Death. The police official raised horses. One article from O Globo claims that Malhaes “imposed his violent brand of law on the region” by riding the dirt roads of his neighborhood on horseback hunting for drug traffickers. When he saw them he would take out his gun and begin to shoot. It was also reported that Malhaes grew close to a local chief of organized crime involved in the numbers racket, and that he stayed in touch with some of the interrogators who had been his subordinates in the army’s torture unit.