Argentina investigates Falklands war, but how thoroughly?

Five months after its defeat in the Falklands war with Britain, the Argentine military has finally named a commission to investigate that war.

But the commission, headed by 85-year-old Lt. Gen. Benjamin Rattanbach (Ret.) , got off to a troubled start.

Commission members complain they have neither office space nor secretarial help. Even more troubling is a disagreement over the extent of the investigation:

Will it simply look into the conduct of the war in the South Atlantic? Or will it look also at the origins of the conflict?

Will it merely look at field operations? Or will it probe the actions of the general staff here in Buenos Aires?

No one knows the answers to these questions, for the commission's full mandate has not yet been established.

The Argentine public, tired of military rule and its apparent bungling of the war, is skeptical of the whole business.

Lt. Gen. Leopoldo Fortunato Galtieri, who engineered the Argentine seizure of the Falklands last April and then led the Argentine nation through its war with Britain, has refused to talk with General Rattanbach - reportedly arguing that he does not have much respect for the aging general and regards him as unfit to lead the probe.

The Galtieri action suggests the whole investigation is likely to be a tumultuous tug of war with a great deal of verbal sniping by military officers, analysts here say.

There is speculation that Lt. Gen. Cristino Nicolaides, the Army member of the ruling military junta who took over from General Galtieri in the dark days after the Argentine defeat, will sanction General Galtieri for his refusal to appear before General Rattanbach. Some think he may place Galtieri under house arrest.

Galtieri associates, meanwhile, are busy circulating stories on a book that Galtieri is supposed to have written, or to have had ghost written, in which he exonerates himself from any culpability over the Falklands war.

He reportedly blames field commanders for the defeat and is critical of the Navy and Air Force roles in the war.

But someone in the Air Force has done some writing, too. Portions of a document highly critical of Army and Navy actions in the war have leaked into the press in recent days. Brig. (Gen.) Ernesto Horacio Crespo, commander of Air Force units in the southern half of the country, is named as the author, although he denies having written it.

The document has some self-criticism of the Air Force as not being fully prepared to fight the Falklands war, but holds that only the Air Force performed well in the fighting. That is known to be the view of many British officers, whose Navy suffered numerous losses at the hands of Argentine pilots.

Ironically, the Air Force did not want the war - and Air Force officers have publicly stated Argentina would never have gotten into the war if they had had their way.

This public skirmishing between the services and among military officers is making headlines, as are numerous stories about the continuing economic traumas facing Argentina and the mounting public wrath over new disclosures of human-rights violations by the military.

Behind-the-scenes feuding within military circles daily spawns new crops of rumors about likely changes in the military leadership.

Within just one week, this correspondent listened to half a dozen ranking officers from all three services berate their fellow officers, accusing them of ''stupidity,'' ''drunkenness,'' and ''treason.''

The charge of treason is tossed around almost lightly as the inter-and intra-service sniping continues.

The Argentine public, for its part, is torn on the Falklands issue. A majority of Argentines are eager to lay the blame for the Argentine defeat at the doorstep of the military. But they are also eager to forget the whole affair.

But it is an issue that will not go away. Books, articles, and all sorts of commentary on the war relentlessly spill into the public forums. The newspaper Conviccion, which speaks for the Argentine Navy, adorns its front page with a blue and white screamer proclaiming, ''The Malvinas (as Argentines call the islands) are Argentine.''

Some generals talk of waging a new war with Britain to reclaim the islands. But almost everyone laughs at that prospect. The military is in no position to carry out any sustained operation.

Yet the bluster of military officers on the Falkland issue suggests just how stinging the defeat was ''and that they are not yet learning any lesson from the war,'' as a high-ranking Foreign Ministry official puts it.

J. Iglesias Rouco, the respected columnist for the morning La Prensa, talks of the ''shipwreck'' of the Argentine nation at this moment and suggests that ''if anything requires a rapid accord, pact, consensus, . . . or whatever you want to call it, among the various sectors of the citizenry, it is precisely the problem of the South Atlantic and future Argentine action in relation to the Malvinas.''

He says the Falklands episode has opened up new international interests in the South Atlantic that could go against Argentina if the Argentines do not develop a more realistic foreign and domestic policy.

But measured against the military infighting and the public's desire to be done with the Falklands episode, there is relatively little thought being given here to working out new national strategies on the Falklands - or anything else.

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