BUENOS AIRES, Argentina - The rubber tip of Victor Basterra's cane bounced from one photo to another, pointing out the faces that elicit the most vivid memories from his encounters with them in this same building more than 25 years ago.
Basterra was a prisoner here at the Navy Mechanics School, the largest and most notorious political detention center used by the military dictatorship that ruled Argentina from 1976 to 1983.
The navy finally moved out at the end of September, allowing workers to begin transforming the 40-acre campus into the country's first comprehensive human-rights memorial recalling that era and its lingering consequences.
"This guy beat me," he said, pointing to one of the black-and-white head shots of former military officials displayed on a mural inside one of the buildings. "And this guy beat me a lot. That one there was the boss."
Basterra snapped the pictures himself while detained here from 1979 to 1982. The officers put him to work developing snapshots of them for false identification documents, he said. But he secretly made copies of their photos as well as those of some of his fellow detainees. Some of the smuggled photos are the only evidence proving that certain prisoners, who were never seen again, had been held by the military.
The continuing relevance of those photos - as well as much of the other physical evidence remaining from the era - has rarely been more obvious: Not only will they be important holdings for the new museum; they will also be key exhibits in trials for crimes that occurred at the Navy School.
The Navy School trials are considered by many to be the most emblematic of the many dictatorship-era human-rights cases that have been scheduled for hearings since the Supreme Court in 2005 declared that amnesty laws protecting former military and police members were unconstitutional.
But many of those cases have been delayed in the courts, leading some human-rights activists to worry that some of the estimated 1,400 members of the military and police awaiting trial will never face justice. Addressing the problem, the Supreme Court recently ordered that the Navy School cases be expedited. The trials are expected to begin soon.
During the dictatorship, from 9,000 to 30,000 people were "disappeared" - meaning they are missing and thought dead. Many are thought to have spent time at the Navy School, where surviving detainees such as Basterra say they were tortured.
Basterra toured the campus recently for the first time since the military left. In a building where he said he took many of the photos now on display, he gazed out from an upstairs window and said he remembered standing in that exact spot in 1982, watching officers carry the body of a prisoner they had killed from the infirmary building across the road.
The infirmary also was where many female detainees are believed to have given birth, only to have their babies taken from them and adopted by military families. As many as 500 such cases are thought to exist, and more than 80 such children have tracked down the truth of their histories in recent years thanks to the help of an advocacy group, Association of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo.
Estela de Carlotto, founder of the group and the mother of a disappeared detainee who gave birth while imprisoned, toured the Navy School last month just days after the military exited.
"This is historic, one of the great successes of the democracy we currently live under - to take possession of a place that was a torture center where many of our grandchildren were born, and turn it into a center for remembrance," said de Carlotto, 77, who has not been able to track down her grandson, who would now be 29. "More than anything, it gives young people the opportunity to understand what happened so they can live in freedom in the future."
Some human-rights groups objected to the museum when then-President Nestor Kirchner approved it in 2004. The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, a group separate from de Carlotto's, argued that the events of the dictatorship were still too raw and alive in the minds of its victims to be memorialized in a museum.
During his tour, Basterra said he believed that opening the buildings to the public would not deaden those feelings, but instead would allow more people to feel the consequences of the dictatorship.