One of Argentina's most feared former military leaders went on trial yesterday on charges of kidnapping, torturing and killing left-wing militants during the 1976-to-1983 dictatorship.
Former army chief Luciano Benjamin Menendez was tried in the northern city of Cordoba, where he commanded the regional Third Army Corps for five years.
Menendez and seven other former army officers are being prosecuted for the killing of Hilda Palacios, Humberto Brandalisi, Carlos Laja and Ruben Cardozo, who were kidnapped in November 1977.
Prosecutors say they were taken to the clandestine prison and torture center known as La Perla on the outskirts of Cordoba.
Prosecutors said that the victims were killed the following month and then dumped in the street to make it look like they died in a shootout with officials — a tactic commonly used at the time by the military in Cordoba to cover executions of dissidents.
Their bodies were then recovered by the military. Palacios’ remains were found in an unmarked grave in a local cemetery, but the bodies of the other three have never been located.
Menendez, 80, is already under house arrest for other cases that also stem from the dictatorship era.
He has refused to enter a plea in various appearances before judges, insisting that civil courts do not have jurisdiction to try him and that he should be tried by a military court instead.
The case is the first major human rights trial to be held in Cordoba and only the second such trial to be held in the interior of the country, newspaper Pagina/12 reported.
Most human rights cases have been tried in greater Buenos Aires.
Human rights groups in Cordoba were organizing marches yesterday and friends and family members of the victims would attend the trial, activist Rodolfo Novillo said.
“We are awaiting justice,” Novillo said. “Menendez is the maximum example of terror and repression in these lands.”
Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has made human rights a cornerstone of her presidency and vowed to speed up trials for dictatorship-era abuses.
With the support of Fernandez’s husband and predecessor, Nestor Kirchner, Argentina’s Supreme Court struck down in June 2005 sweeping amnesties from the 1980s that had shielded hundreds of former officers — including Menendez — from prosecution.
About 13,000 are known to have died during the crackdown on dissent, government reports have shown, although human rights groups say the toll is closer to 30,000.