29 Oct 2011

Celebrations after torture penalties imposed

5:05 pm on 29 October 2011

There were jubilant scenes in Buenos Aires on Wednesday when several former army officers were sentenced to life imprisonment for crimes against humanity.

The crimes were committed in a torture centre during Argentina's "dirty war" between 1976 and 1983.

Former naval officer Alfredo Astiz, 59, known as the "Blond Angel of Death", was sentenced to life after being 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.

Eleven other former military and police officers were also given life sentences for crimes against humanity. Four others were jailed for terms ranging from 18 to 25 years.

90% did not come out alive

All worked at the Naval Mechanical School in Buenos Aires, which became a centre for torture. The BBC reports that 90% of the 5000 or so prisoners taken there did not come out alive.

Some were killed by firing squad while others were thrown alive from planes into the Atlantic Ocean. More than 70 of those who survived their torture were among the witnesses in the trial, which lasted 22 months.

In his defence, Astiz said he acted to save Argentina from left-wing terrorism; 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.