BUENOS AIRES – A court in Buenos Aires handed down sentences ranging from six months to life in prison on Thursday to eight people for more than 800 crimes committed at the most notorious chamber of horrors of Argentina’s 1976-1983 military regime.
“The deeds dealt with in this process constitute crimes against humanity and as such, not governed by the statute of limitations,” Judge Daniel Horacio Obligado said as he announced his verdict.
The trial in the fourth “mega-case” for abductions, killings and torture carried out by teams operating from the Navy Mechanics School (ESMA) in Buenos Aires began in August 2018.
Roughly 5,000 political prisoners passed through ESMA during the junta’s “dirty war” against its opponents, while Thursday’s verdict pushed the number of people found guilty of committing crimes on behalf of the regime to more than 1,000.
Many of those taken to ESMA in those years were never seen alive again. Pregnant women among the detainees were held until they gave birth and then killed – often by being hurled into the Atlantic Ocean from aircraft – so their babies could be given in adoption to military personnel and other “friends” of the regime.
Obligado sentenced former navy non-commissioned officers Carlos Nestor Carrillo, Ramon Roque Zanabria, Jorge Luis Ocaranza and Jose Angel Iturri to 15 years behind bars.
Retired naval officer Carlos Mario Castellvi, former Federal Police agent Raul Armando Cabral and Miguel Conde, a civilian employee of army intelligence, were condemned to life in prison.
Claudio Vallejos, an army conscript assigned to ESMA, received a six-month sentence for his role in the abduction of diplomat and political leader Hector Hidalgo Sola, who subsequently disappeared without a trace.
Prosecutors had sought life sentences for all of the defendants except Vallejos.
One other person charged in the case died before the trial began and another defendant passed away during the course of the process.
The junta leaders and those who carried out their orders were long shielded from prosecution thanks to amnesties approved by the Argentine Congress in the 1980s.
But lawmakers repealed those laws in 2003, opening the door for judges and prosecutors to re-open investigations of the crimes of the dictatorship, which killed some 13,000 people, according to official figures.
Human rights groups say the true death toll is closer to 30,000.
A declassified United States government document mentions a 1978 report from Chilean intelligence citing an official figure from the Argentine junta of nearly 23,000 dead in the first 2½ years of military rule.