Spanish court convicts Argentine of 'dirty war' atrocities, sentences him to 640 years in prison

A Spanish court on Tuesday convicted a former Argentine naval officer of committing atrocities during his country's "dirty war" more than two decades ago, and sentenced him to 640 years in prison.

The trial of Adolfo Scilingo, 58, was Spain's first of a suspect accused of committing human rights abuses in another country. Spanish law says crimes against humanity can be tried in this country even if they are alleged to have been committed elsewhere.

Relatives and friends of people who died during Argentine military rule from 1976-83 hugged each other in the courtroom upon hearing Tuesday's verdict. Some wore stickers with pictures of their missing loved ones on their clothes.

Scilingo sat impassive and wrote notes as the sentence was read. His lawyer said he will appeal to the Spanish Supreme Court.

Scilingo had come to Spain voluntarily in 1997 to testify before a judge probing atrocities allegedly committed by military regimes in Argentina and Chile. He admitted to participating in two so-called "death flights" in which 30 drugged, naked detainees were thrown from planes during Argentina's 1976-83 dictatorship.

Scilingo also said he knew of other atrocities when he was based at the Buenos Aires Navy School of Mechanics, one of the regime's most notorious torture centers.

Spanish National Court Judge Baltasar Garzon, who was investigating the alleged crimes, subsequently jailed and indicted him.

During the trial, Scilingo insisted he fabricated the taped testimony to trigger an investigation into Argentina's "dirty war."

But on Tuesday, a three-judge panel at the National Court found Scilingo guilty of crimes against humanity, and sentenced him to 21 years in prison for each of the 30 people thrown from planes. He also got five years for a torture and five years for illegal detention.

Under Spanish law, the maximum time a person can serve in prison is 40 years, and only in cases of terrorism. The country has no death penalty or life imprisonment. For non-terrorism cases like Scilingo's the limit is 30 years.

During Scilingo's two-month trial the court heard testimony from dozens of people, including survivors of the "dirty war." They described their abductions and torture, as well as that of friends and relatives. However, only one survivor recognized and placed Scilingo at the navy school at the trial.

Some 13,000 people were listed officially as dead or missing in the wake of the military junta years, many of them reported to have been kidnapped off the streets or detained in torture centers before being executed. Some human right groups put the total number as high as 30,000.

MAR ROMAN, Associated Press Writer

On the photo: Adolfo Scilingo

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