The Greek Military Police (Greek: Ελληνική Στρατιωτική Αστυνομία), generally known in English by the acronym ESA (ΕΣΑ) was the military police branch of the Greek Army in the years 1951-1974. It developed into a powerful paramilitary organization and a stronghold of right-wing, conservative Army officers. It became the main security (secret police) and intelligence organization during the Greek military junta of 1967–1974 and was occasionally used as a death squad by the ruling Colonels. After the fall of the junta and the restoration of democracy in 1974, it was disbanded because of its brutal practices, which included the widespread use of torture.
Today the Greek Army maintains a military police section, called Stratonomia, but its powers are not nearly as extensive as those of ESA.
The ESA was not created by the dictatorship, as it is sometimes believed. It was established in 1951, as Greece was preparing to join NATO. Up until then, the Greek Army did not have a specialized military police force. Being posted in the ESA was a major bonus for Army officers because it had very extensive powers within the military, even before the dictatorship. Both the officers and the soldiers who served in ESA were picked for their extreme, almost paranoid, anti-communism. This resulted in making ESA a bastion of the most conservative and anti-democratic members of the Greek officer corps. ESA men wore a distinctive uniform with a royal blue cap and aiguillette. In April 1967, shortly after seizing power in a coup, junta leader George Papadopoulos appointed Dimitrios Ioannides chief of the ESA, which gradually had been transformed into an internal security army.
When Papadopoulos declared Martial law after the 1967 coup, he increased the power of the ESA even further by making it the junta's chief arm of law and order as well as repression. Under Ioannides, ESA rose to a force of more than 20,000 men.
Thousands of the junta's political opponents were arrested by the ESA and sent to some of the Aegean's most desolate islands, called the prison islands. Many of the allegations of prisoner torture under the Papadopoulos regime involved the ESA, in particular its Special Interrogation Unit (Greek: Ειδικόν Ανακριτικόν Τμήμα, tr. Eidikón Anakritikón Tmíma) (ΕAT or EAT/ESA).
Use of torture chambers by ESA during interrogations was reported during the Greek military junta years. Alexandros Panagoulis was one example of a person tortured at the EAT/ESA interrogation cell units. Greek politician Nikos Konstantopoulos is another example. Tagmatarkhis Spyros Moustaklis was left brain damaged and unable to speak after the torture he endured at EAT/ESA.
Alarmed at moves Papadopoulos was making towards a transition to democratic rule, loannidis used his position and power as ESA chief to oust him from power.
The ESA was disbanded in 1974 by Konstantinos Karamanlis and its leading members involved in torture were court-martialled and sentenced during the Greek junta trials, although many served only token prison terms.
Research based on interviews with 21 former ESA members shows that all had been men had been drafted, first into regular military service and then into the ESA. Carried out by Janice T. Gibson & Mika Haritos-Fatouros, the research also showed that recruits underwent series of rigorous treatments and training over a matter of months in order to prepare them psychologically for the task of torturing detainees.
According to witnesses at the court martial proceedings, ESA's operating doctrine was:
"Friend or cripple exits he who enters here"
In Athens, the headquarters of the Special Interrogation Sections of the Military Police (EAT-ESA) was in a building which now houses the "Eleftherios K. Venizelos" Museum at Eleftherias Park, Vassilissis Sofias Avenue.
ESA in culture
- Iannis Smaragdis’ 1975 film ‘’Cell Zero’’ focuses on the violence and torture carried out at the EAT/ESA headquarters, examining the impact of the Greek junta on a group of people with differing political convictions.
Citations and notes
- Greek Army General Staff, Directorate of Stratonomia, History
- Petridis, Exousia kai Paraexousia 1957-1967, 2001
- Greek Army General Staff, Directorate of Stratonomia, History.
- Theodoracopoulos, the Greek Upheaval, 1978
- Theodoracopoulos, 1978
- Athens news on ESA torture chambers
- Reportage without frontiers from ET (Greek National TV) Interview with Vice Admiral Konstantinos Dimitriadis Quote: The food was filled with salt. Threats. Some even suffered moral threats. That their wives and so on and some forged photos with scandals let's say. With threats, with such stuff and profanity. All day and all night long a radio playing. A radio with various songs of the time and so on. And tape recorders with cries to break the morale, let's say. Such stuff, and for some people of course, not everybody was humiliated in the same way. Είχανε κάτι ζωστήρες. They had some belts. The worst case was that of Moustaklis, of course; the man was severely beaten and almost died.
- To Vima online Interview with Nikos Konstantopoulos. Quote: Δεν θα ξεχάσω τις τρεις - τέσσερις πρώτες μέρες μου στην ΕΑΤ-ΕΣΑ. Ημουν σε ένα κελί, αναγκασμένος μετά από πολύ ξύλο να στέκω όρθιος και να περπατώ συνέχεια, χωρίς νερό και φαΐ... Είχε παράθυρο το κελί σας; «Στην αρχή είχε μόνο έναν μικρό φεγγίτη. Μετά όμως με την παρέμβαση του Ερυθρού Σταυρού μού άνοιξαν ένα παράθυρο». . Translation: I will never forget my first three-four days at EAT/ESA. I was in a cell forced after a lot of beating to stand and to walk continuously without water or food. Did your cell have a window? In the beginning it only had a small opening. After the intervention of the Red Cross however they opened a window for me
- Janice T. Gibson & Mika Haritos-Fatouros, "The education of a torturer", Psychology Today (1986), 20, pp. 50-58
- To Vima online Christos Karanikas Quote: "«"Φίλος ή σακάτης βγαίνει όποιος έρχεται εδώ μέσα" ήταν το "δόγμα" της ΕΣΑ, όπως αποκαλύπτουν οι μάρτυρες εις το Στρατοδικείο» γράφει «Το Βήμα» της 13ης Αυγούστου 1975"
Translation Quote: "«" Whoever comes here, is a friend (of the regime) or a cripple when he leaves "was the" doctrine "of ESA, as revealed by witnesses at the Court-Martial» writes The «Vima» of 13 August 1975,"
- Political prisoners network quote: 12.00 a.m. - 1.00 p.m.: Commemoration and press conference at the EAT-ESA (EAT-ESA is a museum today, and it was used as a torture center of the gendarmery during the military junta)
- Google Translation of Vice Admiral Dimitriades' interview TV series: Reportage without frontiers (From ET Greek National TV)
- To Vima interview with Nikos Konstantopoulos (Translation by Google)
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