He gave himself up to the British, then they shot him: An Argentine Falklands veteran tells Isabel Hilton how he was the victim of a war crime

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ON THE MORNING of 12 June 1982, shortly after 7.30, Corporal Oscar Carrizo of the 7th Infantry Regiment of La Plata lay, dreadfully wounded, on the slopes of Mount Longdon in the Falkland Islands. Until the night before, Carrizo had been one of the Argentine defenders of Mount Longdon. That night, the British 3rd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment had taken the mountain in one of the hardest-fought battles of the war. Despite two bullet wounds in the head, Carrizo remembers that morning clearly.

Carrizo was not just another battlefield casualty. Minutes before he was wounded and left for dead he had

surrendered to two British paratroopers. Moments later, one of them shot him in the head. Miraculously, he survived.

'I lay there, I don't know how long. I had no sense of time. Then I got up. I said to myself, if I don't get up now, I never will. When I got up I was dizzy and sick. But I just felt a bit uncomfortable in my head.

'I took off my helmet and I saw the exit hole, like a little flower. I touched my head and felt something hard and then something soft that the doctor later told me was brain. My hand moved down on to my face where I felt some blood and I came across my eye, hanging down my face. I put it back where it belonged. It wasn't that it particularly bothered me, it being outside. It was as though I was in a dream.'

Nearly 11 years later, Oscar Carrizo tells his story with some reluctance. At more than 6ft tall, he has the girth of a man who is no longer an active soldier. He has retired from the army and works long hours as a guard in a private security firm in Buenos Aires to support his wife and three children. He has never sought publicity. 'I always thought of what happened to me as something private, something very personal.'

Nor, he says, is he bitter about the wounds that nearly killed him and cost him the sight of his left eye. Until that dramatic morning his story was no different from those of thousands of others. He was born in 1960 to a modest family in Chubut, in the south of Argentina. His father worked for YPF, the state oil company, and in 1967 the family moved to the pleasant province of Mendoza, in the foothills of the Argentine Andes. Carrizo decided he wanted to be a soldier when he was a teenager. 'I always liked the parades,' he said, 'and the music.'

He enlisted, and by 1982 was a corporal. He married in 1981 and his first child was born in March 1982. But Corporal Carrizo's plans to go home to see his son were interrupted. On 13 April, 11 days after the Argentine occupation of the Falkland Islands, he was sent to Port Stanley, or as it had been renamed, Puerto Argentino. From there he was ordered to Mount Longdon, where he was in charge of six men and two mortars, dug in near the summit.

Corporal Carrizo was a popular NCO during those bleak weeks of waiting on Mount Longdon for the British. He and his men were short of food and relied on foraging and, when they could, killing sheep to survive. Like his men, Carrizo suffered from the shortage of food. By the end of his war, he weighed 8st 6lb (55kg).

The waiting, he said, was also grim. 'One day a soldier had his arm taken off by fragments of rock from an exploding shell. We were under bombardment from Mount Kent. It was four or five hours before we could get him out of there. There were no doctors nearer than Puerto Argentino. I thought that the day the attack came, nobody was going to survive, because we had no medical help, nothing. So we prayed. We waited and prayed.'

On 11 June, Carrizo knew the battle was near. 'There was a sergeant with us who had a radar . . . the night before the attack we detected two men who were not our own, at about 400m. We scanned at about 1,500m and there were more men. At 5,000m more again. None of them were ours.'

They notified the Argentine batteries, but the batteries fired first on the neighbouring mountain, Two Sisters, then corrected to fire on the Argentine positions on Longdon. 'They were very badly off target,' said Carrizo. 'There was no information from our superior officers about what was happening.'

Carrizo and his comrades discussed whether they would surrender as they waited the night out. 'In the morning we were all exhausted. It was like a dream. It had gone quiet and I asked the sergeant what time it was. He looked at his watch in the little bit of light there was inside the position. It was 7.30am. We went outside. It was light; the light of dawn. There was nobody about; dead everywhere.'

Carrizo saw nothing moving except for a soldier he knew, Santiago Mambrin, hiding behind rocks about 30m away. He thought the British must have gone past them. He and the sergeant walked down the hill towards the radio telephone to contact headquarters, then, leaving the sergeant to make the contact, Carrizo climbed back uphill towards his position.

'When I got up the other elevation, there was a small ditch. I saw some British soldiers; a small patrol, and I dropped into the ditch. The British were going down the hill and I threw myself down and looked through a hole. When I raised my head to see whether the last man had passed, someone tapped me on my helmet. I looked round and there were two British soldiers behind me. There was a small man with narrow eyes who had a machine gun and another one. He signalled to me with his gun.

'I stood up with my gun. He made signs about my gun. I handed it over and they threw it down. Then they signalled about the ammunition belt, which I handed over, then my jacket - everything. They were talking among themselves. It happened very quickly. One of them, the one with the narrow eyes, said to me in his language: 'American. Green beret.' I have no idea what he meant. Then one of them fired and I felt nothing else.'

Mount Longdon had been taken by the British, but was still coming under long-range Argentine bombardment and sniper fire. There was the possibility of an Argentine counter-attack that did not, in fact, materialise. On that cold morning of 12 June, the victors were clearing bunkers and picking up the dead and wounded littering the mountain's slopes.

Twenty-three British paratroopers died in the battle for Mount Longdon and 35 were wounded. On the Argentine side, the tally was 121 prisoners, 50 wounded and 29 dead. For several weeks, Carrizo figured in the list of dead or missing. But astonishingly, he was not dead. He managed to get to his feet and wander around for a while, eventually sinking to his knees. 'I felt burning hot,' he said, 'though it was very cold there.'

On his knees, he looked up and there was another gun pointing at him. This time it was rescue. Carrizo was lifted to his feet and half carried, half dragged to what he remembers as an encampment. He remembers a voice saying in Spanish: 'Stay calm and be patient.'

He was taken, semi-conscious, by helicopter to a hospital ship and from there to Comodoro Rivadavia, in Argentina. Although he was an emergency case, 'the doctor said to me that I had been cured by the time I got back,' he said. 'The only thing left was recuperation.'

He stayed in a military hospital in Buenos Aires for several months. It was weeks before the other survivors from his command learnt he was still alive. For one of them it came as a shock. Sergio Delgado, who now runs a cleaning firm in Buenos Aires, was a private in Carrizo's platoon. He had been badly wounded when a grenade was tossed into his bunker during the battle and had lain there, pretending to be dead, as British soldiers stripped him of his clothes and possessions.

Shortly after 9am on the morning of 12 June, Delgado was rescued by a medical team and taken to a British first-aid post for evacuation to the hospital ship Uganda. As he lay on his stretcher, his legs shattered, he saw what he thought was the body of Corporal Carrizo. 'He had been put with a lot of dead Argentine soldiers who were going to be buried in a shell crater. Then one of the British noticed he was alive and they took him away. I was sure he must have died.'

But in September that year, the two soldiers met in the military hospital in Buenos Aires. 'I got a terrible shock, seeing him,' said Delgado. 'I said: 'But you're dead, Carrizo.' He said: 'Well, here I am alive]' and he told me what had happened to him.'

Carrizo also told his story to the Argentine army intelligence who debriefed him in 1982. His story joined thousands of others in the military archive. Then, as he tells it, he got on with his life. He was promoted to sergeant and decorated. In 1988, he retired from the army. 'When I got back to Argentina, all that people cared about was the World Cup,' he remembers. 'I just wanted to go home with my wife. I was happy to be alive.'

Oscar Carrizo never made much of his story over the years. 'I told some people about it, if they asked. Some people believed me, some didn't. Nobody gave it much importance. Neither did I'

But, 10 years after the war, a series of events were set in train that would force Carrizo's story into the light. In August 1992 the book Excursion to Hell, by Lance Corporal Vincent Bramley of the 3rd Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, was published in Argentina. The book is Bramley's account of the battle for Mount Longdon, in which he fought. Bramley describes the execution by his fellow paras of Argentine prisoners.

The publicity surrounding the book stirred the memory of Santiago Mambrin, the soldier whom Carrizo had seen hiding behind a rock on Mount Longdon just before he was shot. From his hiding place, Mambrin had witnessed the 'execution' of Carrizo. Last August he described what he had seen to a Buenos Aires newspaper.

'I was behind a rock with the body of a comrade who had been killed,' he said. 'Suddenly I saw Corporal Carrizo also hiding. I saw two British soldiers with him. They took his gun and his ammunition belt. They were talking among themselves. Carrizo wasn't resisting at all.

'Then one of them drew his hand across his throat - the gesture of cutting someone's throat. One of them fired a burst at him and he fell, bleeding. I'm sure they thought he was dead. I did, too.'

The publication of Mambrin's account was an unwelcome surprise to Carrizo. 'One day,' he said, 'I was finishing off at work when one of the boys said: 'Look, you're in the paper. That thing you told us about years ago is in the paper. Do you know this lad?' I looked and it was Mambrin, telling the story of what he saw. I read it and cried. It brought back terrible memories, things I had forgotten. I hated seeing my story there, in the paper, told by someone else. It had always been something private, something personal.'

The publication of Bramley's book had other consequences. As a result of his allegations, Scotland Yard is engaged in a war crimes investigation. Carrizo has read the book and sees no reason to doubt what Bramley says. After all, Carrizo says, it happened to him.

But he has mixed feelings about the investigation. 'So many years after the war, I don't know what will be achieved. Nothing will bring the dead back. Death is death. And for the people who lost their sons or their husbands, this is very painful. We went to fight for sovereignty and for our flag. You did the same. But we are all human beings. If today I met the man who did this to me, I would shake his hand, because there is peace now.

'He did the wrong thing, no doubt, but what's the point of putting him on trial now? His life is already ruined because he knows what he did. God is the only judge.'

Oscar Carrizo smiled. 'So that's my little story,' he said. 'Very short. It happened very quickly. When the war ended, it was another world. And I am alive, thanks to the British doctors who attended me. I am really very grateful to the British. First they executed me, then they saved my life. And life is very sweet.'

(Photographs and map omitted)

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