The principal dictator of Argentina’s 1976-1983 military junta, former Argentine president Jorge Videla, was sentenced to life in prison on Wednesday for crimes against humanity committed during his murderous “dirty war” against left-wing dissidents.
Videla, an 85-year-old former army general, who ruled between 1976 and 1981, had acknowledged his actions, but denied they were human rights violations, insisting he was an unjustly convicted “political prisoner.”
The sentencing judge, Maria Elba Martinez, described him as “a manifestation of state terrorism.”
She ordered him incarcerated for the rest of his life in a Argentine federal penitentiary under civilian, not military, rules.
Another junta officer, General Luciano Menendez, 83, was also given a life term, added to other, identical sentences for human rights crimes carried out when he headed an army corp responsible for 11 provinces.
They were among 30 people — mostly police and military officers — tried for the junta’s atrocities. Sentences have ranged between six years and life behind bars.
Videla came to power at the head of the military junta after masterminding a 1976 coup that toppled the government of former Argentine president Isabel Peron.
The brutal regime was accused of making about 30,000 people “disappear,” including by throwing them from aircraft in night flights over the sea.
It operated 500 clandestine detention centers across the country where tens of thousands of people were held, many subjected to torture and death.
Argentina’s military government fell in 1983, a year after Videla’s successor, former Argentine -president Leopoldo Galtieri, waged an unsuccessful war against the UK for the Falkland Islands.
Videla’s trial began on July 2 with the ex-dictator acknowledging responsibility for “cruel” acts on his watch, but refusing to recognize the court.
In a pre-sentence hearing on Tuesday he repeated that position.
“I assume full responsibility ... My subordinates were only following orders,” he said.
“I claim the honor of victory and I regret the consequences,” Videla said, emphasizing he saw Argentina’s dirty war in the 1970s as a fight against “subversives.”
The charges against him included the abduction, torture and murder of 40 people, including a German student, Rolf Stawowiok, whose disappearance in 1978 prompted Berlin to ask for Videla’s extradition.
The former strongman was previously tried and sentenced in 1985 in Argentina to life in prison, but was pardoned five years later by then-Argentine president Carlos Menem.
A 2007 verdict finding Videla’s pardon unconstitutional set the scene for the new trial, which included charges that his regime stole babies from dissident prisoners.
At a separate trial on Tuesday, three former military officials of the regime each received life in prison for crimes against humanity, including “unlawful deprivation of liberty” and “aggravated torture.”
More than 130 people have been convicted of crimes committed during the military dictatorship, according to a report published last month, with dozens more currently on trial.