In I Couldn’t Even Imagine That They Would Kill Us: An Oral History of the Attacks Against the Students of Ayotzinapa (City Lights, Nov.), journalist Gibler reconstructs the events of Sept. 26, 2014, in Iguala, Mexico, that left six people dead and 43 students missing.
What was it like to interview those affected by the attack?
I went to the school about a week after the attacks. There was an incredible amount of disinformation and confusion in the press and in official statements. So I started interviewing the survivors. Most had not spoken to any reporters. They hadn’t even told each other the full stories of what they lived through. That listening experience was incredibly powerful. I also started to piece together a version of the events of that night that was very different from what was prevalent in the press and in official statements.
The title is a quote from one of the students who survived. Why that quote?
It points to one of the core aspects of the attacks, which is that as the attacks were unfolding, the students couldn’t comprehend them. The first students thought the police were just shooting in the air. They thought they knew the rules of the game: they could be beaten up by the police, but it was not even in the realm of possibility that a huge number of them would be forcibly disappeared.
You talk about the two stages of forced disappearances: the material stage and the legal-administrative stage. What has the second stage been like for the families?
The second phase is just lies. To cover the lies, government investigators actually committed a series of new atrocities—torturing people, destroying evidence, planting new evidence. So they aren’t helping the families find their kids, and there’s the psychological torture of the families imagining their kids being incinerated in a trash dump [which is the state’s version of events], which didn’t happen. Three years later, there are still high-level federal officials repeating that narrative even though it’s one of the most exhaustively debunked lies in contemporary Mexican political history.
The parents are demanding that the students be returned, but do they really believe that they’re still alive?
The particular terror of forced disappearance is precisely the not knowing. It’s simultaneously a direct insistence that those people be returned and it’s a political demand that counters the logic of forced disappearances. One of the central myths, curiously enough, is that the government is incompetent—that it’s incapable of processing a crime scene or conducting an actual investigation. I think that’s wrong and also very dangerous. The government is extremely competent. What they are doing is disappearing the students and getting away with it.