Fri, Oct 28, 2011 - Page 7 News List

Argentine ‘dirty war’ agents handed life sentences

‘ANGEL OF DEATH’:Alfredo Astiz, who is accused of the torture and murder of nuns, a journalist and human rights activists, said the prosecutions were politically motivated

AP, BUENOS AIRES

An Argentine court sentenced 12 former military and police officials to life in prison on Wednesday for crimes against humanity committed during the country’s 1976-1983 military dictatorship.

Among those sentenced to life in the landmark ruling was Alfredo Astiz, a 59-year-old former Argentine Navy spy nicknamed “the Angel of Death.”

Astiz is accused of participating in the disappearance, torture and murder of two French nuns, a journalist and three founders of a human rights group that he infiltrated while spying for the dictatorship.

The crimes, which included 86 cases of kidnapping, torture and murder against leftist dissidents, were committed inside the Navy Mechanics School, one of the military junta’s principal torture centers used to crush the threat of armed revolution. About 5,000 detainees passed through the school. Fewer than half survived.

Four other defendants were sentenced to between 18 and 25 years in prison, while two were absolved.

The verdicts were applauded by human rights activists and families of the victims, who watched the verdict on a big screen television.

“Ole, ole, they will have the same fate as the Nazis, wherever they go we will find them,” family members chanted.

The Navy Mechanics School, a leafy former military campus, is now home to a museum dedicated to preserving evidence of crimes against humanity. It also used to house a maternity ward where pregnant detainees were held until they gave birth and then were made to “disappear.” A separate trial alleging that systematic baby thefts were part of the junta’s anti-subversion strategy is under way in another courtroom.

Survivors and relatives of victims from the nation’s “dirty war” against leftist guerrillas and political opponents called it a “historic day.”

Astiz has accused Argentine President Cristina Fernandez of promoting unjust and illegitimate prosecutions for her own political gain. Her late husband and predecessor, former Argentine president Nestor Kirchner, encouraged the trials after Congress and the Supreme Court removed amnesties that had protected junta veterans.

“This government doesn’t hesitate in its revenge against we people who combated terrorism,” Astiz said. “It seeks revenge through martyrdom and death in prison.”

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