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Argentine court sentences 48 in 'Dirty War' trial

Argentine court sentences 48 in 'Dirty War' trial
November 30, 2017

BUENOS AIRES (AFP) - An Argentine court sentenced 48 former military personnel to prison on Wednesday for involvement in so-called "death flights" and other crimes committed at a notorious torture center when a junta ruled the country.

The trial is part of an effort to probe torture and crimes against humanity committed at the ESMA Naval Mechanics School. Only a fraction of an estimated 5,000 opponents of the regime, which ruled from 1976-1983, survived being sent there.

Twenty-nine people were handed life sentences, 19 received sentences of between eight and 25 years, and six were acquitted.

Among those who received life were Mario Daniel Arru and Alejandro Domingo D'Agostino, two ex-pilots convicted of involvement in "death flights" in which people were killed by being thrown out of airplanes into the Rio de la Plata or the sea.

Victims of the flights include French nuns Alice Domon and Leonie Duquet, who were abducted and killed along with founders of the humanitarian organization Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in December 1977.

The remains of Duquet and three of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo were found on Argentina's Atlantic coast and buried in a nearby cemetery. Domon's remains were never recovered. Alfredo Astiz, known as the "Blond Angel of Death," and Jorge Acosta, nicknamed "The Tiger," also received life.

'Like the Nazis'

Among other crimes, Astiz and Acosto were accused of the 1977 disappearance of Swedish citizen Dagmar Hagelin, who was 17 years old.

Both men had already been sentenced to life imprisonment in prior trials.

Some 30,000 people were kidnapped, tortured and killed in what became known as Argentina's "Dirty War," according to rights groups.

Victims included Montonero guerrillas, labor union leaders, students, leftist sympathizers and in some instance, their relatives and friends.

This is the third trial for human rights violations committed at ESMA, and some 800 witnesses have given court testimony. Since the process began in November 2012, 11 of the accused have died, and three were deemed too ill to face trial.

The reading of the Wednesday verdict lasted for almost four hours in a packed courtroom in which the defendants were separated by glass from the public, which included victims and relatives of victims.

Outside, people including dozens of human rights activists followed the proceedings on a giant screen. "It will be like what happened with the Nazis, wherever they go we will go looking for them," survivors, children and mothers of the disappeared and others intoned. "The huge number of cases and accused gives a sense of the repression," survivor Carlos Loza said.