27 Oct 2011

Argentina's notorious 'Angel of Death' jailed for life

5:17 pm on 27 October 2011

Former naval officer Alfredo Astiz has been jailed for life for crimes against humanity during the military rule of Argentina.

Astiz - known as the "Blonde Angel of Death" - was found guilty of torture, murder and forced disappearance. Among his victims were two French nuns and the founders of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo human-rights group.

Ten other former military and police officers have also been given life sentences for crimes against humanity. Several others got shorter sentences.

The BBC reports that all worked at the Naval Mechanical School in Buenos Aires - known as Esma - which was the biggest secret torture and killing centre set up by the military during what became known as the "Dirty War".

Of the 5000 or so prisoners taken to Esma, 90% did not come out alive. Some were killed by firing squad while others were thrown from planes - drugged but still alive - into the Atlantic Ocean. More than 70 of those who did make it out were among the witnesses called in the 22-month trial in Buenos Aires.

Human-rights groups had campaigned for years to bring the perpetrators to justice, and there were celebrations as the sentences were read out.

Infiltrated 'Mothers' group

Astiz, 59, is one of the most notorious symbols of military rule in Argentina.

As a young naval intelligence officer he infiltrated the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, a group set up to find relatives abducted by the security forces. He then arranged the kidnap and murder of its three founders - Azucena Villaflor, Esther Ballestrino and Maria Ponce.

He has already been convicted in absentia in France for the murder of French nuns Alice Domon and Leonie Duquet, who disappeared in Argentina in 1977.

In his defence, Ortiz said he had acted to save Argentina from left-wing "terrorism", and he dismissed his trial as an act of political vengeance.

Human-rights groups say 30,000 people were killed or made to disappear by the armed forces in their campaign against opposition activists and left-wing guerrillas during the military rule of Argentina between 1976 and 1983.