Argentine "dirty war" generals get life in prison

Posted in Human Rights , Latin America | 30-Aug-08 | Author: Helen Popper| Source: International Herald Tribune

Human rights activists react in courtroom after hearing the verdict that condemned former Argentine Army Gen. Antonio Domingo Bussi to life imprisonment over the disappearance of a provincial senator during the 1976-1983 "Dirty War" dictatorship, in the northern province of Tucuman.

BUENOS AIRES: An Argentine court sentenced two former generals to life in prison on Thursday over the disappearance of a provincial senator during the 1976-1983 "dirty war" dictatorship.

Human rights activists and relatives of the victim chanted "murderers" as the verdict was read out for Antonio Domingo Bussi, who was military governor of the northern province of Tucuman, and his superior, Luciano Benjamin Menendez.

Up to 30,000 people disappeared during Argentina's dirty war in a state crackdown on leftist dissent. Hundreds of people were kidnapped and killed in Tucuman alone, rights groups say.

Bussi, 82, who wept during Thursday's hearing, built a political career after democracy returned to Argentina in 1983. He was elected in 1995 as governor of Tucuman, a sugar- and citrus-growing province that is among the country's poorest.

At his trial, Bussi said he had sought to save his province and the country from communist aggression. He denied participating in the disappearance of former provincial senator Guillermo Vargas Aignasse, seized in 1976.

Hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside the courtroom to hear the verdict. Scuffles broke out as some reacted angrily to the possibility the generals could serve the sentence at home or in a military facility instead of a prison.

The court is set to announce where they will serve their sentences next month.

Menendez, 80, was in charge of several provinces in the country, making him Bussi's boss. In a separate ruling last month, he was given a life sentence in a prison for his role in the torture and killing of four leftists 31 years ago.

Under ex-President Nestor Kirchner, courts and Congress scrapped pardons for military personnel involved in human rights crimes during the dictatorship. Since then courts have tried and convicted several military leaders of rights crimes.